Mason Scientists Say Catastrophic Hurricanes Due in Part to Global Warming

Posted: September 22, 2005 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Lori Jennings

George Mason’s severe weather researchers at the Center for Earth Observing and Space Research (CEOSR) predict damaging high-category hurricanes becoming the norm rather than the exception for states along the Gulf of Mexico if sea surface temperatures continue to rise.

The prediction, based on careful study of satellite data and an increase of hurricane activities in recent years, suggests that climate anomalies induced by global warming may be responsible for recent extreme weather events, including Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

“Sea temperature is known to be one of the most important parameters in the formation and intensification of hurricanes,” says Menas Kafatos, dean of the School of Computational Sciences and director of CEOSR.

“Satellite data also shows the absence of atmospheric conditions that might weaken or change the current path of the hurricane. Such observational results suggest Rita is expected to intensify further until it makes landfall in the northwestern part of the Gulf of Mexico.”

George Mason’s team, led by Kafatos, on Tuesday found appreciably higher sea surface temperatures (SST) when Hurricane Rita entered the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The group has been studying satellite data for the Gulf of Mexico, which indicate that SST has increased in the past 20 years.

The team’s recently-released paper, “Anomalous Gulf Heating and Hurricane Katrina’s Rapid Intensification,” monitored satellite observations over the Gulf of Mexico during Hurricane Katrina’s move toward land and also found the condition of high SST. High SST is considered to be responsible for the rapid intensification of the hurricane as it moved from the relatively cooler water of the Atlantic Ocean to the warmer waters of the Gulf.

“Hurricanes that undergo rapid intensification before landfall rank among the most destructive and costliest of natural phenomena,” says Kafatos.

“We recommend that scientists continue monitoring the abnormal water temperatures to see whether the trend of rising SST continues or subsides. If the trend continues, catastrophic hurricanes will be the norm rather than the exception, causing untold damage in the U.S. Gulf states.”

CEOSR has been studying the hurricanes using satellite data from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration platforms and by conducting sophisticated model runs.

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