Cyclones’ silver lining: they may slow global warming

October 20, 2008

A Filipino resident wades across a flooded area after Typhoon Mindulle hit Baguio City, north of Manila, July 1, 2004. At least 16 people were killed when Typhoon Mindulle hit the country on Wednesday, packing peak winds of 190 km per hour near the center and gustiness of 230 kph, cut power and telecommunications lines. REUTERS/Tito Zapata RR/FAA cyclone slamming into a tropical island in the Pacific or the Caribbean sounds like unmitigated bad news — flattening homes, destroying crops, flooding towns or washing away coastlines.

But there may be a silver lining even to the worst storm clouds; hurricanes and typhoons may help — at least a bit — to slow global warming by washing huge amounts of leaves, branches, tree trunks, roots and soil into the ocean, according to research in the journal Nature Geoscience. Read a story about the findings here.

Plants soak up carbon dioxide — a non-toxic heat-trapping gas that is building up fast in the atmosphere because of human emissions of greenhouse gases — as they grow and release the stored carbon when they rot or burn.

The study in Taiwan showed that torrential rains during typhoon Mindulle in 2004 washed perhaps 0.05 percent of all carbon stored on hillsides out to sea — mixed with other debris it sinks to the seabed where it is quickly buried, trapping carbon which would otherwise be released into the atmosphere. TORRENTIAL RAIN IN THE WAKE OF TYPHOON MINDULLE CAUSES A WATERFALL AND SWOLLEN RIVER IN TAIWAN’S SOUTHERN COUNTY OF KAOHSIUNG. Torrential rain in the wake of Typhoon Mindulle causes a waterfall and swollen rivers in Taiwan’s southern county of Kaohsiung on July 5, 2004. Mudslides and flooding have killed at least 18 people in Taiwan, with 12 people still missing and thousands more stranded. TAIWAN OUT HONG KONG OUT REUTERS/Stringer

Of course, this isn’t going to save the planet from global warming — the scientists say the effect is a pinprick compared to the buildup of greenhouse gases, mainly from burning fossil fuels in cars, factories and power plants.  

And I can’t imagine that anyone suffering from a cyclone, like the Filipino man in the picture above (taken in Baguio City after typhoon Mindulle) would draw much comfort from thinking that the muddy water up to his neck might be helping to ease a global problem.  

Even so, we usually only hear about how global warming is accelerating — a thaw of Arctic ice, for instance, might expose darker sea and land that soaks up ever more heat than reflective snow and ice. So it’s good to hear every now and again that nature has ways to limit the damage.

One problem — the U.N. Climate Panel predicts that tropical cyclones may become more powerful because of global warming: what happens then?

One comment

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“which shall be annually distributed in the form of prizes to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind.” from the Will of Alfred Nobel.

Is understanding how the fundamental symmetries of nature are broken will benefit most of mankind? I don’t think 99.9% of mankind will benefit in the foreseeable future. But other branch of Physics effecting all mankind in this generation and generations for the next millennium GEOPHYSICS. The discoveries and improvements in the field of CLIMATE CHANGE can (with political will) benefit all mankind.

For Nobel to Charles Keeling we are to late so maybe Jim Hansen maybe someone else from the field. But the cosmic microwave background radiation is much less important then the radiation balance of Earth.

1st Alfred Nobel have the option of invention and improvement in his will no need to discover anything.
2nd I don’t suggest to stop physics basic research I’m only suggest to expand the subjects of the Nobel physics prize.

Posted by Eyal Morag | Report as abusive