If greenhouse gas emissions continue rising, powerful winds migrating west from Africa’s Atlantic coast may rev up tropical hurricanes, according to a recent study by Stanford University.
Study co-authors Christopher Skinner and Noah Diffenbaugh sought to examine the impacts of climate change on African Easterly Waves (AEWs). Skinner and Diffenbaugh analyzed computer simulations of AEWs from 1980-2005 and looked into future AEW patterns if CO2 levels continue growing at their current rate. The study reveals that these winds patterns will indeed become even more intense in the years to come due to the widening temperature gap between the two regions bordering the Sahel, transporting more dust across the Atlantic ocean and potentially intensifying hurricanes. Although AEWs wouldn’t directly transform into hurricanes, these researchers attest that changes could lead to significant rain and vertical wind motion, which would eventually manifest and ultimately “serve as the seed for a hurricane.”
The AEWs travel from east to west during warmer seasons. AEWs are critical to transporting rain to the Sahel, a vulnerable region that has been subjected to some of the worst droughts in the world, especially over the last 50 years. This area is known for its difficult climate conditions as it is trapped between the wet, tropical region along the equator and the dry, Saharan desert in the north.
“The temperature difference between the desert and the region farther south actually becomes larger than it is today,” said Christopher Skinner, co-author of this study. “Because the strength of the African easterly waves is influenced by the temperature difference between these two regions, we would expect the energy of the AEWs to become larger, and that’s what the simulations show.”
Stanford’s study coincides with United Nations talks on climate change currently occurring in Abu Dhabi, and also comes shortly after the recent IPCC reports, which examine the causes and impacts of climate change as well as options for mitigation. In an effort to combat climate change, the university has also recently agreed to divest their $18.7 billion endowment from coal companies. With perturbing scientific data pouring in from multiple sources, public demands for international cooperation are on the horizon, especially leading up to the UN climate summit and COP 20.