Researchers link hurricanes to rising sea temperatures

A small increase in sea temperature can lead to a big increase in hurricane activity, according to British researchers.

A small increase in sea temperature can lead to a big increase in hurricane activity, according to British researchers.

Researchers at University College London, writing in the journal Nature, said a half-degree temperature increase in sea surface temperatures in the summer can lead to a 40 per cent increase in hurricane frequency.

Mark Saunders, professor of climate prediction at University College London and his colleague Adam Lea built their climate model based on local sea surface temperature and wind data from the last 40 years.

The two did not look at greenhouse gas levels and what role they may have played in sea surface temperatures.

But they wrote that linking hurricane activity to sea surface temperatures could prove useful in making predictions about future hurricane activity in the Atlantic.

Their findings also might explain why 2007, when water temperatures were slightly cooler, was a calmer year for hurricanes, they said.

The study is the latest to wade into hurricane frequency and its connection to climate change, a hotly disputed field of scientific research.

Last week, for example, a study published in the scientific journal Geophysical Research Letters by researchers at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) argued that global warming would lead to a decrease in the intensity and frequency of hurricanes.

The University College London researchers argue hurricanes feed on warmer water, while the NOAA researchers said that changes in global temperatures result in atmopheric instability that prevents storms from forming.

The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's findings, representing a consensus of thousands of scientists, said in its January 2007 report that hurricanes are likely to become more intense, but suggested with less confidence that they would actually decrease in number.