Changes in tropical cyclone activity are among the more potentially consequential results of global climate change, and it is therefore of considerable interest to understand how anthropogenic climate change may affect such storms. Global climate models are currently used to estimate future climate change, but the current generation of models lacks the horizontal resolution necessary to resolve the intense inner core of tropical cyclones. Here we review a new technique for inferring tropical cyclone climatology from the output of global models, extend it to predict genesis climatologies (rather than relying on historical climatology), and apply it to current and future climate states simulated by a suite of global models developed in support of the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report.

This new technique attacks the horizontal resolution problem by using a specialized, coupled ocean-atmosphere hurricane model phrased in angular momentum coordinates, which provide a high resolution of the core at low cost. This model is run along each of 2,000 storm tracks generated using an advection-and-beta model, which is, in turn, driven by large-scale winds derived from the global models. In an extension to this method, tracks are initiated by randomly seeding large areas of the tropics with weak vortices and then allowing the intensity model to determine their survival, based on large-scale environmental conditions. We show that this method is largely successful in reproducing the observed seasonal cycle and interannual variability of tropical cyclones in the present climate, and that it is more modestly successful in simulating their spatial distribution. When applied to simulations of global climate with double the present concentration of carbon dioxide, this method predicts substantial changes and geographic shifts in tropical cyclone activity, but with much variation among the global climate models used. Basinwide power dissipation and storm intensity generally increase with global warming, but the results vary from model to model and from basin to basin. Storm frequency decreases in the Southern Hemisphere and north Indian Ocean, increases in the western North Pacific, and is indeterminate elsewhere. We demonstrate that in these simulations, the change in tropical cyclone activity is greatly influenced by the increasing difference between the moist entropy of the boundary layer and that of the middle troposphere as the climate warms.

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Footnotes

Program in Atmospheres, Oceans, and Climate, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts