15 Sep, 2006 12:00 am
Roughly a year ago, we summarized the state of play in the ongoing scientific debate over the role of anthropogenic climate change in the observed trends in hurricane activity. This debate (as carefully outlined by Curry et al recently) revolves around a number of elements - whether the hurricane (or tropical cyclone) data show any significant variations, what those variations are linked to, and whether our understanding of the physics of tropical storms is sufficient to explain those links.
Several recent studies such as Emanuel (2005 -- previously discussed here) and Hoyos et al (2006 -- previously discussed here) have emphasized the role of increasing tropical sea surface temperatures (SSTs) on recent increases in hurricane intensities, both globally and for the Atlantic. The publication this week of a comprehensive paper by Santer et al provides an opportunity to assess the key middle question - to what can we attribute the relevant changes in tropical SSTs? And in particular, what can we say about Atlantic SSTs where we have the best data?