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Cold periods had fewer storms, natural ocean cycles the largest cause of hurricane variability.

I've always been skeptical of the view that global warming leads to stronger hurricanes. The argument behind it seems overly simplistic -- hurricanes feed off warm water, so warmer sea surface temperatures will lead to more frequent and powerful storms.

Elsewhere in our solar system, the exact opposite seems true. Blisteringly hot Venus, for instance, seems to have extremely weak storm activity, whereas icy Jupiter has massive hurricanes that last centuries, large enough to swallow the entire earth several times over. This is only suggestive rather than conclusive, but clearly there's more to storm activity than just raw temperature.

Basic thermodynamics helps to explain why. Storms are essentially large heat engines. It's not temperature that drives a heat engine, but differences in temperature. Global warming, which warms the poles more than the equator, would seem to decrease the latitude-based differential that helps drive a hurricane's rotational energy.

So went my pet theory, at least— but no hard data supported it.

However, the other side had no hard data either. While climate modelers claimed global warming might strengthen storms, actual hurricanologists were adamant that no actual evidence existed. Some pointed to research on wind shear, which suggested that a warmer climate would reduce the conditions that allow hurricanes to form, despite warmer surface water.

In 2005, one hurricanologist, Emmanuel Kerry, broke ranks and claimed to have actual proof that global warming increased hurricanes. For this, Time Magazine quickly named him "Man of the Year". However, last year Kerry publicly recanted his view, admitting that his earlier work was flawed.

With Kerry's renunciation, hurricane scientists were unanimous in their view that global warming wouldn't lead to measurably stronger storms.

But could it do the reverse? Could global warming actually reduce hurricane activity? A pair of Chinese researchers now says this very well may be true, at least for some parts of the earth.

The researchers, using a new branch of science they call "paleotempestology", looked backwards through several thousand years of the earth's history. Using sedimentary deposits, core samples from caves, and other geological proxies, along with documented historical records of hurricane landfalls, they built the longest record of hurricane activity ever constructed. They then correlated it to the varying temperature at each period..

On the global level, the researchers found no link between climate and hurricane activity. Surprisingly, though, cold periods such as the Little Ice Age had the most hurricanes, at least in some regions, a result the team said "begs adequate explanation".

However, the study found a strong link between natural patterns such as El Nino and hurricanes, a clear pattern of rising and falling activity on decadal time scales. These oscillations, known as "ENSO", tended to suppress and enhance hurricanes on a regular cycle, with the cooler "la Nina" years having the most activity.

The research was published in the Chinese Science Bulletin, and can be viewed here.

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RE: Be right back
By FITCamaro on 1/16/2009 10:14:40 AM , Rating: 2
Since I wasn't alive in the 70s, what was their reasoning for getting rid of leaded gas?

RE: Be right back
By bridgeman on 1/16/2009 2:27:38 PM , Rating: 3
Oh, just a minor problem of lead poisoning. It's the same problem as lead paint and lead plumbing. I recall reading somewhere that lead levels in the soil by old highways are still elevated.

Children are particularly susceptible to lead poisoning. Also, kids have a way of playing by the side of the road and eating things they shouldn't. It's a particular problem for a kid with pica, a disorder in which the kid will habitually eat grass, dirt, or other non-edible things.

RE: Be right back
By sigilscience on 1/16/2009 2:40:05 PM , Rating: 2
It's a VERY minor problem. IIRC, those "elevated" lead levels are still lower than the natural lead levels found in dirt at thousands of places around the country.

As you say, it might be a problem if you allow your child to spend years playing on the highway and eating large amounts of the dirt he finds there. But for everyone else it was basically a scare tactic.

RE: Be right back
By bridgeman on 1/16/2009 3:03:19 PM , Rating: 2
I wouldn't be surprised at the local variance of lead levels. There are parts of the country where they have to defluoridate water to prevent fluorosis.

Anyway, I've just now recalled a very good reason for unleading gasoline. Lead causes catalytic converters to fail. The lead coats the catalyst, sealing it away and preventing it from doing its job of reducing carbon monoxide and hydrocarbon emissions.

RE: Be right back
By masher2 on 1/16/2009 3:17:59 PM , Rating: 2
The lead scare of the 1970s was certainly overblown, but it had a grain of truth. Hundreds of thousands of tons of lead compounds put directly into the air could certainly be a problem. Epidemiological studies showed mixed results, but the risk, if it existed, was certainly small.

I have no problem with the ban as such. A scare without a grain of truth, however, is the EU's current ban on lead in solder. The quantities here are thousands of times smaller-- and the lead doesn't go directly into the air we breath either. The ban is a craven bow to anti-industrial environmental interests, plain and simple. Worse, since substitutes make electronics less reliable, the actual environmental impact from this ban is certainly negative, as tens of thousands of consumer electronic items wind up in landfills early.

Incidently, when leaded gasoline was first introduced in the 1920s, the newspapers were filled with stories claiming the fumes would kill people outright, or send them into epileptic fits. It took a Congressional investigation before this hysteria quieted of many hundreds of such to spring up in the past.

Also in the 1920s, President Coolidge had to convene an emergency panel, to address the problem of "dwindling oil supplies", as many experts were predicting the world would be entirely out of oil within 10 years.

Truth, sirs, is stranger than fiction.

RE: Be right back
By FITCamaro on 1/18/2009 4:06:08 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah banning lead in electronics is just stupid. Unless you're going to let your kids eat or suck on their electronic toys, I don't see how they could possibly get lead poisoning from the lead in the solder.

RE: Be right back
By bfonnes on 1/19/2009 11:43:56 PM , Rating: 2
What are your views of increased levels of mercury in fish? PCBs in drinking water? Radioactive waste leaking out of their containers? Federal Super Fund sites? Polluting of natural aquifers? ad infitum, ad nasuem?

RE: Be right back
By onelittleindian on 1/20/2009 10:36:59 AM , Rating: 1
"mercury in fish" = "big scare for nothing".
"PCBS in drinking water" = "haven't killed anyone yet"
"Radioactive waste leaking out of their containers?" = "fix the container"

Most of this is just environazi stupidity. By itself, the ban on DDT killed millions of people. When you compare how much that hurt people to an extra 0.0001% chance of getting cancer, it really puts it all in comparison.

RE: Be right back
By mmatis on 1/19/2009 11:01:23 AM , Rating: 2
Or if you're sitting in a bar sucking up all the malt liquor you can get from your welfare check while your kids sit at home chewing the paint on the windowsills because you don't have any $$$ left to buy stuff for them...

"We don't know how to make a $500 computer that's not a piece of junk." -- Apple CEO Steve Jobs

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