An intensive study to examine how global warming will influence hurricanes in the next few decades has been launched by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colorado.
As part of the study, researchers are homing in on the hurricane-prone Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea to assess the likely changes, between now and the middle of the century, in the frequency, intensity, and tracks of these powerful storms.
The goal of the project is to provide information to coastal communities, offshore drilling operations, and other interests that could be affected by changes in hurricanes.
According to Cliff Jacobs, program director in the National Science Foundation (NSF)'s Division of Atmospheric Sciences, which is funding the project, "The outcome of this research will shed light on the relationship between global warming and hurricanes, and will better inform decisions by government and industry."
The project relies on an innovative combination of global climate and regional weather models, run on one of the world's most powerful supercomputers.
"It's clear from the impacts of recent hurricane activity that we urgently need to learn more about how hurricane intensity and behavior may respond to a warming climate," said NCAR scientist Greg Holland, who is leading the project.
"The increasingly dense development along our coastlines and our dependence on oil from the Gulf of Mexico leaves our society dangerously vulnerable to hurricanes," he added.
The new study follows two major reports, by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program (CCSP) and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that found evidence for a link between global warming and increased hurricane activity.
For the project, the model will examine three decades in detail: 1995-2005, 2020-2030, and 2045-2055. Scientists will use statistical techniques to fill in the gaps between these decades.
A major goal is to examine how several decades of greenhouse-gas buildup could affect regional climate and, in turn, influence hurricanes and other critical weather features.
Scientists will also investigate the impact of the powerful storms on global climate.
"Combining weather and climate models in this way enables more detailed projections of hurricanes in a warming world than any study to date," said Holland.
"These projections will help reduce the uncertainty of current assessments, and they also serve the very important role of providing experience about applying future predictions of changes to high impact weather systems in general," he added.