An unlikely culprit has emerged in the suppression of tropical storms and hurricanes in the 20th century: dirty air.
The findings of a Nature Geoscience study released this week state that aerosols released by fuel-burning cars and power plants were cooling the surface of the North Atlantic, as mentioned in a ScienceNews article. Coincidentally, a major air current was shifted and the formation of hurricanes might have been suppressed.
If this new study is correct, it could explain an increased number of tropical systems in the North Atlantic basin over the last couple of decades, reports the New York Times. The reduced pollution may have helped the storm cycles return to a more natural state, the report adds.
"Human-emitted air pollution particles have a major impact on weather and climate, and we know they act to keep the planet cooler," said Dr. Jeff Masters, Director of Meteorology at Weather Underground. "Since hurricanes are heat engines that take energy out of the oceans, it makes sense that a reduction in particle pollution, allowing the oceans to heat up more, could potentially lead to stronger hurricanes."
The study, according to a Guardian article, stated that while there was no way to tie pollution discharge to individual hurricanes, there was a noticeable decline in North Atlantic tropical systems during times when pollution increased.
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Amazing Hurricane Images: Isabel - 2003 (NASA)
This image was taken from satellite on September 13, 2003 when Isabel was strengthening back to Category 5 status. Several pinwheel shaped features can be seen spinning inside the eye.