Lindzen on Hurricanes and GW

The IntersectionBy Chris MooneyApr 12, 2006 9:23 PM


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Famed global warming "skeptic" Richard Lindzen has an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today about global warming--which includes some debunking of the proposed hurricane/GW link. He writes:

If the models are correct, global warming reduces the temperature differences between the poles and the equator. When you have less difference in temperature, you have less excitation of extratropical storms, not more. And, in fact, model runs support this conclusion. Alarmists have drawn some support for increased claims of tropical storminess from a casual claim by Sir John Houghton of the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that a warmer world would have more evaporation, with latent heat providing more energy for disturbances. The problem with this is that the ability of evaporation to drive tropical storms relies not only on temperature but humidity as well, and calls for drier, less humid air. Claims for starkly higher temperatures are based upon there being more humidity, not less--hardly a case for more storminess with global warming.

In a comment at RealClimate, Andrew Dessler has already provided a specific rebuttal to the second half of this, the bit about humidity:

This clearly confuses relative humidity in the boundary layer (which determines evaporation) and specific humidity throughout the troposphere (which determines the strength of the water vapor feedback). With editorials like this, Lindzen has completely lost interest in maintaining even a shred of scientific credibility.

But I don't really understand the first half of Lindzen's argument either. Or at least, the whole thing seems rather disconnected from the actual debate over hurricanes and global warming that scientists are currently having. I'm no scientist, but I've listened to a lot of them talk about this topic by now, and no one I've heard has been talking about "temperature differences between the poles and the equator" in the context of whether there would be an effect upon hurricanes. The real issue seems to be changes in sea surface temperature, something Lindzen never mentions. So, I'm at a bit of a loss here. Meanwhile, I note that the Palm Beach Post is following upon the Houston Chronicle in publishing a news story based upon Kerry Emanuel's as yet unpublished work, with Michael Mann, on whether there actually are natural cycles of Atlantic hurricane activity (or whether they're significant). I don't have a lot to say about this at the moment, save one sociological observation: There is apparently such a media hunger for news about hurricanes and GW that journalists aren't even waiting for the peer review process to run its course any more before filing their stories. The pace of the scientific process, and the pace of media coverage, are at a complete mismatch in this case. Finally, I'm off to Drinking Liberally tonight and then to the the National Hurricane Conference tomorrow; on Friday there will be a public debate there on hurricanes and GW. I guess we'll have to see whether the issues raised by Lindzen will come up; I kinda doubt it though....

P.S.: Just realized, Lindzen is talking about extratropical storms in the first half of his comment...Doh. Never mind. He still seems to be oddly off topic, because it doesn't seem to me that this is really where the debate is at all...

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