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Warming Seas Have Increased Asian Typhoon Intensity by 50%: Study

A new study has shown that the power of typhoons impacting East and Southeast Asia has intensified by 50% over the last four decades due to warming seas.

The Guardian reports on new research published in Nature Geoscience highlighting the increased power of typhoons in Asia. Professor Wei Mei from the University of North Carolina, who led the study, told the paper “we believe the results are very important for East Asian countries because of the huge populations in these areas. People should be aware of the increase in typhoon intensity because when they make landfall these can cause much more damage.”

Scientists used data collected in Japan and Hawaii which indicates that typhoons in the northwest Pacific have intensified by 12-15% on average since 1977. Meanwhile, the proportion of category 4 and 5 storms, the most dangerous, doubled or even tripled in some regions. Alarmingly, the most noticeable intensification occurred in storms which hit land, The Guardian shares.

Typhoons are measured by sustained wind speed, but the damage caused by wind, storm surges and floods increases disproportionately, meaning a 15% increase in intensity causes a 50% rise in destructive power.

The researchers made a point to note that they have not been able to determine whether this increase in typhoon strength is due to manmade climate change or natural cycles, since 40 years is a relatively short time period. However, they are confident that the future warming predicted by many scientists will contribute to even stronger storms. As Professor Mei said: “we want to give the message that typhoon intensity has increased and will increase in the future because of the warming climate.”

The news source also quoted Professor Kerry Emanuel from MIT, who was not involved in the study, saying “the results leave little doubt that there are more high-intensity events affecting Southeast Asia and China…this is significant for these nations because what matters, in the end, is landfall size and intensity.”

Asian nations are routinely ravaged by typhoons, with Typhoon Haiyan (pictured above), which killed 6,300 people in the Philippines in 2013, a notable example as the strongest storm ever recorded at landfall.

[Photo via Flickr user NASA Goddard Space Flight Center]

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