Could cleaner air lead to more hurricanes? A new study suggests so

A 50 percent decrease in pollution in Europe and the U.S. correlates to a 33 percent increase in Atlantic storm formation.
Loukia Papadopoulos
Hurricane Katrina.Wikimedia Commons

A new study conducted by The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) study has found that cleaner air is leading to more hurricanes, according to a study published in the journal Science Advances on Wednesday. The research indicates that a 50 percent decrease in pollution in Europe and the U.S. correlates to a 33 percent increase in Atlantic storm formation over the past couple of decades.

More pollution fewer typhoons

Meanwhile, in the Pacific, more pollution is linked to fewer typhoons. NOAA hurricane scientist Hiroyuki Murakami came to this conclusion by running numerous climate computer simulations to study phenomena that could not be explained by natural climate cycles.  

He speculated that since hurricanes need warm water to form and persist, cooling air and seas that result from a decrease in warming greenhouse gas emissions would naturally lead to fewer disastrous events. That's why the Pacific which is suffering due to much pollution from India and China is also seeing more hurricanes.

The air there is warm enough to heat up the seas and cause the naturally-occurring devastating phenomena. In the meantime, the Atlantic has seen a decrease in pollution since 1980.

"That's why the Atlantic has gone pretty much crazy since the mid-90s and why it was so quiet in the 70s and 80s," said climate and hurricane scientist Jim Kossin of the risk firm The Climate Service. Kossin was not part of the NOAA study but did confirm that pollution "gave a lot of people in the 70s and 80s a break, but we're all paying for it now."

Pollution takes lives

That might seem worrisome until one considers how many more lives are taken from pollution. University of Washington public health professor Kristie Ebi said seven million people a year worldwide die from air pollution, much more than through hurricanes. Ebi insisted that reducing air pollution was critical regardless of what happens with cyclones.

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The study is published in Science Advances.

Over the past 40 years, anthropogenic aerosols have been substantially decreasing over Europe and the United States owing to pollution control measures, whereas they have increased in South and East Asia because of the economic and industrial growth in these regions. However, it is not yet clear how the changes in anthropogenic aerosols have altered global tropical cyclone (TC) activity. In this study, we reveal that the decreases in aerosols over Europe and the United States have contributed to significant decreases in TCs over the Southern Hemisphere as well as increases in TCs over the North Atlantic, whereas the increases in aerosols in South and East Asia have exerted substantial decreases in TCs over the western North Pacific. These results suggest that how society controls future emissions of anthropogenic aerosols will exert a substantial impact on the world’s TC activity.

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