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Climate change is influencing where tropical cyclones are formed

New research suggests human-caused inputs, including increases in greenhouse gas emissions and reductions in particulate pollution, have altered the global distribution of tropical cyclones over the last 40 years. Photo by UPI Photo/NASA | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/36bc342abfa7c2cc0e74edafd3d1e1de/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
New research suggests human-caused inputs, including increases in greenhouse gas emissions and reductions in particulate pollution, have altered the global distribution of tropical cyclones over the last 40 years. Photo by UPI Photo/NASA | License Photo

May 5 (UPI) -- Over the last 40 years, climate change has been influencing where tropical cyclones form, according to a new study.

Although the number of tropical cyclones generated each year remains stable, previous research suggest storms are getting bigger and moving slower -- bad news for coastal communities. Now, new models suggest climate change is also altering the distribution of tropical cyclones.

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Over the last four decades, storms have been increasing in number in the North Atlantic and Central Pacific, while storms in the western Pacific and in the southern Indian Ocean are becoming less frequent. Researchers used their new models to parse tropical cyclone data and identify links between distribution and a variety of atmospheric inputs, including greenhouse gases emissions, particle pollution and volcanic eruptions.

The results, published this week in the journal PNAS, showed climate change is responsible for the shift in cyclone distribution.

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"We show for the first time that this observed geographic pattern cannot be explained only by natural variability," lead study author Hiroyuki Murakami, a climate researcher at NOAA's Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, said in a news release.

The new models suggest that climate change has calmed the cyclone activity in the western Pacific and in the southern Indian Ocean. As greenhouse gas concentrations increase, temperatures in the upper atmosphere rise. The warming has a stabilizing effect, minimizing the convection of air currents that fuel the formation of tropical cyclones.

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Particulate pollution helps seed clouds and reflect sunlight, leading to cooling. Pollution controls have helped curb pollution-induced cooling, allowing the ocean to absorb more of the sun's energy, fueling cyclone activity in the North Atlantic and Central Pacific.

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The models also showed that, during the 1980s and 1990s, major volcanic eruptions in Mexico and the Philippines triggered modest cooling in the northern hemisphere, briefly pushing tropical cyclone activity southward.

Simulations suggest that in the long term, the stabilizing effects of a warming atmosphere will dominate, causing cyclone activity to decline all over the world by the end of the century. However, rising ocean temperatures will increase the severity of those that do form.

"We hope this research provides information to help decision-makers understand the forces driving tropical cyclone patterns and make plans accordingly to protect lives and infrastructure," Murakami said.

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