Pollution And Hurricanes: Cleaner Air Means More Extreme Weather, New Study Finds [REPORT]

By Philip Ross on June 24, 2013 12:41 PM EDT

weather
Pollution and hurricanes over the North Atlantic region are more intrinsically linked than previously thought. According to new research from the UK, as the air quality in that region has improved, so has the frequency of hurricanes. (Photo: Reuters)

Pollution and hurricanes, to the layman, may seem like disparate forces with little correlation to one another. But according to a new study from the UK Met Office, that's not the case. Researchers studying air quality and extreme weather patterns say that pollution and hurricanes are more intrinsically linked than we could have imagined, and that cleaner air means we can expect more extreme weather.

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We're so used to hearing that human activities are bad for the environment. How could cleaner air be a bad thing? You're probably wondering. But according to the study, published in the journal Nature Geoscience, there were fewer hurricanes and other tropical storms in the North Atlantic region for most of the 20th century because of higher levels of air pollution. Things like aerosols, the specks of matter suspended in gas created by the burning of coal or oil (in addition to natural processes like volcanic eruptions), actually reflect solar rays and keep ocean temperatures down.

Phys.org reports that ocean warmth is the main cause of tropical storms.

"The clean-up of industrial aerosols in the last 20 years, while being beneficial for human health and linked to a recovery of African Sahel rains since the 1980s droughts, may have contributed to increases in Atlantic hurricane activity," Ben Booth co-author of the study, told phys.org.

The link between pollution and hurricanes was discovered just as we found out that the 2013 North Atlantic hurricane season is supposed to be a doozy. Forecasters predict above-average activity for this year's hurricane season, which began June 1 and runs through Nov. 30. From Phys.org:

This year's forecast calls for a 70 percent probability of 12 to 17 named storms with five to 10 of the storms developing into hurricanes. The mean forecast is 15 named storms, eight of them hurricanes, and an average accumulated cyclone energy (a measure of the strength and duration of storms accumulated during the season) of 135.

The European Environment Agency reports that global air pollution emissions have steadily decreased over the 32-year period between 1990 and 2012. Over the course of that time, emissions of sulfur dioxide, produced in combustion engines, decreased by over 80 percent. Emissions of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, declined by more than a half. Additionally, nitrous oxides emissions fell by over 50 percent from what they were in 1990.

One study from Columbia University on global air quality and climate predicts that air quality will continue to improve over the next century.

To come to the conclusion that less air pollution equals more extreme weather patterns, researchers made weather simulations for the period between 1869 and 2050. They discovered that hurricanes were far less frequent during times when mad-made pollution increased over the North Atlantic.  

Is the study linking pollution and hurricanes good news or bad news? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

Read more from iScience Times:

NOAA Hurricane Forecast 2013: 20 Atlantic Storms Predicted For 'Extremely Active' Hurricane Season [REPORT]

Earth Day 2013 Observes 'Faces Of Climate Change': 8 Amazing Facts About Climate Change Unknown To Many

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