UH Mānoa Study: Ocean Warming Increases Potential of Destructive Cyclones

October 2, 2017, 10:18 AM HST (Updated October 2, 2017, 11:11 AM)

A professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa’s International Pacific Research Center guided a study recently published in Scientific Reports examining the question: “What is the impact of ocean warming on the size and destructiveness of tropical cyclones?”

Hurricane Irma (category 5) looms large approaching Cuba and Florida on Sept 8, 2017. Credit: NOAA

Tim Li concluded that with warmer sea surface temperatures, tropical cyclones become not only stronger, with higher maximum wind speeds, but also larger, with gale-force winds covering a greater area.

The study found that for every degree Celsius increase of sea surface temperature, the size-dependent destructive potential of typhoons in the western North Pacific and hurricanes in the North Atlantic can increase by 340% and 150%, respectively.

Li’s group used both long-term climate simulations and short-term, high-resolution simulations of different cases.

“We were a little surprised by the result, but it is physically understandable,“ Li said. “The strengthened tropical cyclone destructive potential poses a heightened threat to human society as well as terrestrial and marine ecosystems.”

UH Mānoa said the implication is that future storms in both ocean basins could become dramatically more destructive if ocean warming continues unabated.

Texas, Florida and many Caribbean islands have recently experienced the elevated destructiveness, first-hand.


Li noted that the results might be model-dependent and that further modeling efforts will confirm the results. UH Mānoa said that for future research, the group plans to incorporate other natural forces and projected future sea surface temperature patterns derived by different modeling centers around the world.



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