Cyclones’ silver lining: they may slow global warming
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.
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?