NASA Study at Pasadena's JPL Predicts More Storms as Climate Warms

Published : Tuesday, January 29, 2019 | 6:11 AM

Credit: JPL-Caltech

The warming of tropical oceans due to climate change could lead to a substantial increase in the frequency of extreme rain storms by the end of the century, according to a study conducted at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena.

The research team responsible for the report was led by JPL’s Hartmut Aumann.

It determined that extreme storms – those producing at least 0.12 inches of rain per hour over a 16-mile area – formed when the sea surface temperature rose above 82 degrees Fahrenheit.

The researchers also concluded that 21 percent more storms form for every 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit that ocean surface temperatures rise.

“It is somewhat common sense that severe storms will increase in a warmer environment,” explained Aumann. “Thunderstorms typically occur in the warmest season of the year, but our data provide the first quantitative estimate of how much they are likely to increase, at least for the tropical oceans.”

The study team combed through 15 years of data acquired by NASA’s Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) instrument to determine the relationship between the average sea surface temperature and severe storms.

Currently accepted climate models project that with a steady increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, tropical ocean surface temperatures may rise as much as 4.8 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century.

The study team concluded that, were this to occur, the frequency of extreme storms can be expected to increase up to 60 percent by the year 2100.

“Our results quantify and give a more visual meaning to the consequences of the predicted warming of the oceans,” Aumann said. “More storms mean more flooding, more structure damage, more crop damage and so on, unless mitigating measures are implemented.”

The peer-reviewed study was published in the December 2018 issue of the Geophysical Research Letters journal.

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