IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group I: The Physical Science Basis

Figure 3.5. Latitude-time sections of zonal mean temperature anomalies (°C) from 1900 to 2005, relative to the 1961 to 1990 mean. Left panels: SST annual anomalies across each ocean from HadSST2 (Rayner et al., 2006). Right panels: Surface temperature annual anomalies for land (top, CRUTEM3) and land plus ocean (bottom, HadCRUT3). Values are smoothed with the 5-point filter to remove fluctuations of less than about six years (see Appendix 3.A); and white areas indicate missing data.

Box 3.5: Tropical Cyclones and Changes in Climate In the summer tropics, outgoing longwave radiative cooling from the surface to space is not effective in the high water vapour, optically thick environment of the tropical oceans. Links to higher latitudes are weakest in the summer tropics, and transports of energy by the atmosphere, such as occur in winter, are also not an effective cooling mechanism, while monsoonal circulations between land and ocean redistribute energy in areas where they are active. However, tropical storms cool the ocean surface through mixing with cooler deeper ocean layers and through evaporation. When the latent heat is realised in precipitation in the storms, the energy is transported high into the troposphere where it can radiate to space, with the system acting somewhat like a Carnot cycle (Emanuel, 2003). Hence, tropical cyclones appear to play a key role in alleviating the heat from the summer Sun over the oceans. As the climate changes and SSTs continue to increase (see Section, the environment in which tropical storms form is changed. Higher SSTs are generally accompanied by increased water vapour in the lower troposphere (see Section and Figure 3.20), thus the moist static energy that fuels convection and thunderstorms is also increased. Hurricanes and typhoons currently form from pre-existing disturbances only where SSTs exceed about 26°C and, as SSTs have increased, it thereby potentially expands the areas over which such storms can form. However, many other environmental factors also influence the generation and tracks of disturbances, and wind shear in the atmosphere greatly influences whether or not these disturbances can develop into tropical storms. The El Niño-Southern Oscillation and variations in monsoons as well as other factors also affect where storms form and track (e.g., Gray, 1984). Whether the large-scale thermodynamic environment and atmospheric static stability (often measured by Convective Available Potential Energy, CAPE) becomes more favourable for tropical storms depends on how changes in atmospheric circulation, especially subsidence, affect the static stability of the atmosphere, and how the wind shear changes. The potential intensity, defined as the maximum wind speed achievable in a given thermodynamic environment (e.g., Emanuel, 2003), similarly depends critically on SSTs and atmospheric structure. The tropospheric lapse rate is maintained mostly by convective transports of heat upwards, in thunderstorms and thunderstorm complexes, including mesoscale disturbances, various waves and tropical storms, while radiative processes serve to cool the troposphere. Increases in greenhouse gases decrease radiative cooling aloft, thus potentially stabilising the atmosphere. In models, the parametrization of sub-grid scale convection plays a critical role in determining whether this stabilisation is realised and whether CAPE is released or not. All of these factors, in addition to SSTs, determine whether convective complexes become organised as rotating storms and form a vortex. While attention has often been focussed simply on the frequency or number of storms, the intensity, size and duration likely matter more. NOAA’s Accumulated Cyclone Energy (ACE) index (Levinson and Waple, 2004) approximates the collective intensity and duration of tropical storms and hurricanes during a given season and is proportional to maximum surface sustained winds squared. The power dissipation of a storm is proportional to the wind speed cubed (Emanuel, 2005a), as the main dissipation is from surface friction and wind stress effects, and is measured by a Power Dissipation Index (PDI). Consequently, the effects of these storms are highly nonlinear and one big storm may have much greater impacts on the environment and climate system than several smaller storms. From an observational perspective then, key issues are the tropical storm formation regions, the frequency, intensity, duration and tracks of tropical storms, and associated precipitation. For landfalling storms, the damage from winds and flooding, as well as storm surges, are especially of concern, but often depend more on human factors, including whether people place themselves in harm’s way, their vulnerability and their resilience through such things as building codes.