Hurricane Sandy: Was Global Warming The Cause? [EXCLUSIVE]

By iScience Times Staff Reporter on October 31, 2012 2:18 PM EDT

Commuters make their way across the Brooklyn Bridge in New York, October 31, 2012. Millions across the Northeast will attempt to resume their normal lives on Wednesday as companies, markets and airports reopen despite grim projections of power and mass tr
Commuters make their way across the Brooklyn Bridge in New York, October 31, 2012. Millions across the Northeast will attempt to resume their normal lives on Wednesday as companies, markets and airports reopen despite grim projections of power and mass transit outages around New York for several more days. Hurricane Sandy. (Photo: Reuters)

Hurricane Sandy was more likely - and developed greater strength - because of global warming, a top scientist in New York told iScienceTimes on Wednesday.

"A hurricane gets its energy the same way you boil a pot of water," Dr. Debra Tillinger, a visiting professor of Physics at Marymount Manhattan College, told iScienceTimes. "Just like the heat rises as you boil the water, a hurricane follows the path of the warmest water."

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After former vice president Al Gore put out a statement on his blog on Tuesday blaming the intensity of Hurricane Sandy on "global warming pollution," scientists find themselves debating how much climate change contributed to this week's superstorm that ravaged the Northeast.

"The images of Sandy's flooding brought back memories of a similar - albeit smaller scale - event in Nashville just two years ago," Gore wrote. "There, unprecedented rainfall caused widespread flooding, wreaking havoc and submerging sections of my hometown. For me, the Nashville flood was a milestone. For many, Hurricane Sandy may prove to be a similar event: a time when the climate crisis-which is often sequestered to the far reaches of our everyday awareness became a reality. ... Other climate-related catastrophes around the world have carried the same message to hundreds of millions."

But how exactly was the hurricane aggravated by climate change? Unlike tornadoes, hurricanes are driven by heat, Dr. Tillinger explained. "If the water is warmer more energy is available," she said. "Air temperatures also make a difference. Warm air can hold more water than cold air can, which is why you never hear people complain about a cold, humid day."

Kevin E. Trenberth, a scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., told The New York Times that human-propelled global warming has been increasing the overall temperature of the surface ocean by around one degree Fahrenheit since the 1970s. As much as 10 percent of the energy from which the storm benefited could have been created by global warming.

That concern is nothing new, said Dr. Tillinger, who received a doctorate in Ocean and Climate Physics from Columbia University. Two years ago Dr. Tillinger attended a Geoscience Congressional Visits Day in Washington, D.C. to talk to Congress about concerns she and other scientists had. One of those concerns was that the subway and sewer systems were ill-equipped to deal with possible flooding.

"Our sewer system is very antiquated and, as a consequence, very overloaded," Dr. Tillinger explained. "Our subway system always has to pump out water - even on a sunny day." So a natural disaster can easily prove too much for a 108-year-old transportation grid.

Creating green roofs and protecting natural defenses like marshes would help, Dr. Tillinger added. But so would working on the city's infrastructure. "If we had a better water system scientists would worry less," she said. "I'm just hoping that people who work on Wall Street start to see that."

© 2012 iScience Times All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

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