Everyone knows about Hurricane Matthew by now - the tropical cyclone is hitting Cuba, Haiti, and Jamaica, with force not seen since 2007. Hurricane Matthew is a symptom of a bigger problem, however. Recently it was reported that the earth has reached 400 parts per million carbon in the atmosphere. So today you're going to learn what those buzzwords such as climate change and global warming actually mean. Everyone is screaming about global warming, but do you know explicitly what it is?
What really is global warming and climate change? Well, whether you "believe in" factual climate change science due to human activity, I'm just going to say climate change by definition is the climate changing regardless of the cause. Our climate is changing regardless of what you attribute the cause to - natural processes (which admittedly do bring something to the table) or human activity (which also bring something to the table).
So let's talk about solar radiation - I'm not going to get super technical here. A certain amount of solar radiation to begin with is lost before it comes to Earth. So I'm going to focus on solely radiation that reaches earth. Much of solar radiation is absorbed by the land surfaces and the ocean. A certain smaller amount is also absorbed by the atmosphere as well as clouds. However, there is radiation that is not absorbed and bounces back up. That radiation, typically, would go back to space.
Carbon emissions block that radiation from bouncing back to space. Instead, the radiation is kept within the layers of the atmosphere - resulting in warming. That is the jist of global warming and the greenhouse effect, ultimately warming the atmosphere.
So, where does all that heat go? Well, it goes in the ocean. The ocean absorbs much of the carbon emissions we put into the atmosphere, also resulting in warming. Marine life is having a hard time handling this and is getting stressed or possibly dying out. It is no secret the ocean is getting warmer and warmer.
Now, though, we're going to talk about hurricanes. The reason many meteorologists and forecasters deny global warming - especially with hurricanes - is that there are cycles to hurricane development and cycles of the earth's climate in general. Hurricanes in particular are influenced by a few cycles - the Atlantic Multi Decadal Oscillation, the El Nino Southern Oscillation, and the Madden-Julian Oscillation. Let's start big and go small.
The Atlantic Multi-Decadal Oscillation is essentially an oscillation of sea surface temperatures. As the name implies, it lasts decades and goes through active and inactive periods to put it as simply as possible. The Atlantic has been in an active stage since the early 2000s, specifically around 2005, which means warm sea surface temperatures. The El Nino Southern Oscillation is the same El Nino you hear about. The oscillation has two parts - El Nino and La Nina (El Nino is warm temperatures and La Nina is cold temperatures in the pacific). El Nino suppresses Atlantic hurricane development and La Nina encourages it for more complicated reasons. Finally, the Madden Julian Oscillation is a small scale oscillation that influences activity where hurricanes come from (Africa).
So, why did you read all that?
The point is, hurricanes such as Matthew are taking advantage of the current warm conditions once they form. Storms like Matthew can only be made worse with climate change - the conditions will be there either way, but will we make it worse? When Matthew is hitting these small countries which undeniably don't have huge carbon emissions, I cannot help but feel almost personally responsible. We have all contributed in some way, and we need to start making this a center point of our lives. I understand most people don't run factories. Recycle more. Car pool. Buy energy efficient appliciances and cars. Do anything at all that could make your footprint a little bit smaller. Pressure governing bodies for change and investments in clean energy. Matthew is merely a symptom of the disease. While climate change may not influence oscillations that govern hurricane development (the jury is still out), the warm sea surface temperatures will fuel hurricanes and only make them bigger, stronger, and more destructive.
To the critics, I am not linking Matthew directly to climate change. That would be a study I simply would not have funds to do. However, the intensity of the storm could have been influenced by it. I am merely saying climate change could have been a player in Matthew's development, not the sole reason for its existence.
Do anything to reduce your carbon footprint - the world needs it. The people of Jamaica, Haiti, and Cuba need it.