Oct 29, 2017

As typhoons wreak greater havoc, what is the link to climate change?

Hong Kong
by
Ernest Kao
,
South China Morning Post
strong waves at Victoria Harbour in Tsim Sha Tsui as Typhoon Pakhar hits Hong Kong days after Hato. Photo: Felix Wong
strong waves at Victoria Harbour in Tsim Sha Tsui as Typhoon Pakhar hits Hong Kong days after Hato. Photo: Felix Wong

It has been a wild and wet 2017. As Typhoon Hato battered Hong Kong and Macau in August, grounding flights and killing 10 people, hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria unleashed hell on the Americas, causing hundreds of deaths.

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Following Hato, the question is once again being raised: is climate change causing more typhoons and stronger typhoons?

There is no “simple” or conclusive answer to the question, atmospheric scientist Professor Johnny Chan Chung-leung said.

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But what international scientists seem to agree on is this: global warming will make future extreme weather events, when they happen, more powerful, wreaking greater damage.

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The oceans are getting warmer due to the greenhouse effect, where gases in the atmosphere, such as water vapour, absorb heat radiated from the Earth to space and re-emit them in all directions. Oceans have a higher heat capacity than air and absorb 90 per cent of this extra heat.

International research already shows stronger typhoons making landfall in the northwest Pacific Ocean.

A 2016 study led by Professor Wei Mei of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and published in the journal Nature Geoscience found that storms hitting China, Japan, Korea and the Philippines had grown 50 per cent stronger on average since 1977, largely due to the warming of oceans.