The Frankenstorm: Did We Bring This On Ourselves?

I am sure that almost all of you have heard of the disaster that is Hurricane Sandy. After all, you can’t read a newspaper, listen to the radio, or watch the TV without hearing something about a monster like that. It’s everywhere. Inside of my RSS feed, I found quite a few articles that have to do with Hurricane Sandy, talking mainly about its current path and its aftereffects. However, there have also been quite a few articles about the relationship between Hurricane Sandy and global warming. Many of them state that the sea from which Sandy came from was in fact 5 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than its usual temperature. Tropical storms gain a lot of strength when going over warmer water, so those 5 degrees can make a big difference. One of the articles featured Dan Miller, an engineer and venture capitalist who cares a lot about climate change, and helped James Hansen (NASA climate scientist), challenged writer Andrew Revkin on something Revkin wrote earlier. Miller claims that the earth is warming significantly, mostly because of humans:

We have increased CO2 levels in the atmosphere by about 40% in the last 100 years (mostly the last 50 years) on the way to doubling later this century.  The Earth has warmed up about 1.4°F)already due to the extra greenhouse gases we put in the atmosphere and it would have warmed even more if we weren’t also putting up smoke that reflects sunlight.  This warming has increased Earth’s energy radiation to space, but the excess greenhouse gases are still trapping more heat than the Earth is radiating to space.  This “energy imbalance” is about 0.6 watts/square meter.  This doesn’t sound like much but it is equivalent to 400,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs going off every day.

Humans have been creating lots of heat from greenhouse gasses, and now we’re turning our planet into a superhero (the radiation). Either that, or we’re killing the Earth even faster (the more likely choice). The only thing that is even decent is that us humans are putting up a smoke screen which has been reflecting some of the sunlight, but is also killing anyone with asthma. Miller goes on to show some more effects of the increasing heat:

Extremely Hot Summers have increased 5000% in the past 50 years.  There is 4% more water vapor in the atmosphere than 50 years ago.  Average ocean temperatures have increased (90% of global warming energy goes into the ocean).  The Arctic sea ice just reached its lowest level in thousands of years and in a few years you will be able to sail a boat to the North Pole for the first time in human history.

He says that all of these things would have an effect on strength, scale, and direction of Sandy. And I may not be any expert on the science of hurricanes, but I know a bit and this all seems to make sense. So, it is very possible that we brought Sandy on ourselves. This really should be a wake up call that we need to start doing something. Even if you don’t believe in global warming, Sandy is unusually strong (although that could be just me). It has already caused tons and tons of damage. So if this won’t get people to do something, what more has to happen in order for us to start doing something?


5 responses to “The Frankenstorm: Did We Bring This On Ourselves?”

  1. laurenm0017 says :

    Hello Ben. I also read through a few articles in my own RSS reader and found a video that has a interview between some people who call in and a scientist by the name of Michael E. Mann. Mr. Mann seems to touch base with both Andrew Revkin and Dan Miller opinions.

  2. alliej0017 says :

    I remember when we saw An Inconvenient Truth that Al Gore talked about Katrina: it served as a sort of “wake-up call”. I think it’s a bit shocking that our society needs something as huge and as devastating as Sandy or Katrina to start realizing that global warming is real, and is deadly.

    I also found that our contributions of smoke to the atmosphere very interesting. Smoke does reflect sunlight away from us, but that wouldn’t work as a way to “fix” global warming: adding smoke to the air would greatly decrease air quality. Smog is bad!

    Great post altogether, Ben. I really liked how you brought in quotes from another article and really looked at the science. This (Hurricane Sandy and her impact) might just be the tipping point. We’ll have to wait and see.

    • Mr. Meyer says :

      To be clear, Allie, the term “smoke” is a bit misleading, though the concept is right. One component of air pollution is reflective aerosols which do have a “dimming” effect. In fact, you’ll sometimes hear serious proposals to purposely put more aerosols into the atmosphere as just such a “fix” . . . keep your ears open for discussions about “geoengineering.”

  3. alexc0017 says :

    I understand that global warming could have a big effect on the strength and size of storms, but I don’t think we can say that each specific one was caused by global warming. Bruce Wielicki, the climatologist, said that global warming probably is not having a huge impact on storms now, but will in 50-100 years.

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