Review

Tropical cyclones and climate change

  • Nature Geoscience volume 3, pages 157163 (2010)
  • doi:10.1038/ngeo779
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Abstract

Whether the characteristics of tropical cyclones have changed or will change in a warming climate — and if so, how — has been the subject of considerable investigation, often with conflicting results. Large amplitude fluctuations in the frequency and intensity of tropical cyclones greatly complicate both the detection of long-term trends and their attribution to rising levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases. Trend detection is further impeded by substantial limitations in the availability and quality of global historical records of tropical cyclones. Therefore, it remains uncertain whether past changes in tropical cyclone activity have exceeded the variability expected from natural causes. However, future projections based on theory and high-resolution dynamical models consistently indicate that greenhouse warming will cause the globally averaged intensity of tropical cyclones to shift towards stronger storms, with intensity increases of 2–11% by 2100. Existing modelling studies also consistently project decreases in the globally averaged frequency of tropical cyclones, by 6–34%. Balanced against this, higher resolution modelling studies typically project substantial increases in the frequency of the most intense cyclones, and increases of the order of 20% in the precipitation rate within 100 km of the storm centre. For all cyclone parameters, projected changes for individual basins show large variations between different modelling studies.

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Acknowledgements

The authors constitute an expert team established by the World Meteorological Organization to provide advice to national meteorological and hydrological services on tropical cyclones and climate change. T.K. and J.L.M. are co-chairs of this team. J.L.M was supported by the West Australian Government Indian Ocean Climate Initiative. The team wishes to thank the Sultanate of Oman and Sultan Qaboos University for kindly sponsoring the initial discussion meeting for this report (March 2009 in Muscat, Oman). We also thank our colleagues for several helpful reviews, discussions and figure contributions.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory/NOAA, 201 Forrestal Road, Princeton, New Jersey 08542, USA

    • Thomas R. Knutson
    •  & Isaac Held
  2. Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research, Melbourne 3001, Australia

    • John L. McBride
  3. Guy Carpenter Asia-Pacific Climate Impact Centre, City University of Hong Kong, Kowloon, Hong Kong, China

    • Johnny Chan
  4. Program in Atmospheres, Oceans, and Climate, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Room 54-1620 MIT, 77 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139, USA

    • Kerry Emanuel
  5. National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado, USA

    • Greg Holland
  6. National Hurricane Center/NWS/NOAA, 11691 SW 17th Street, Miami, Florida 33165, USA

    • Chris Landsea
  7. National Climatic Data Center/NOAA, 1225 W Dayton Street, Madison, Wisconsin 53706, USA

    • James P. Kossin
  8. India Meteorological Department, Shivajinagar, Pune 411005, India

    • A. K. Srivastava
  9. Research Institute for Global Change, JAMSTEC, 3173-25 Showa-machi, Kanazawa-ku, Yokohama, 236-0001 Kanagawa, Japan.

    • Masato Sugi

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Contributions

All authors contributed equally to the assessments described in this report, and all contributed to the writing, with T.K. being the lead author.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Thomas R. Knutson.

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