Global warming can affect hurricanes, in part because a warmer ocean provides more energy to fuel them. But it’s not the only factor in play: A study released on Wednesday confirms that, for the frequency of hurricanes, the effects of particulate air pollution are even greater.
Over the past four decades, the new research shows, the decline in pollution in the form of tiny aerosol particles from transportation, energy production and industry in North America and Europe was responsible for the increased numbers of hurricanes and other tropical cyclones in the North Atlantic.
Over the same period, increasing pollution from the growing economies of India and China had the opposite effect, reducing hurricane activity in the Western North Pacific, the study found.
A growing body of research has shown links between tropical cyclones and global warming, which is the result of human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. A 2020 study, for example, used observational data to show that hurricanes have become stronger and more destructive since the 1980s as the world has warmed and the oceans have absorbed more heat.