More Stormy Winds for Future Eaarth?

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It appears to have been getting windier over the past two decades, according to a Swinburne University of Technology team led by Ian Young whose research appeared Friday in the journal Science. Young has authored more than 100 papers.

National Geographic reports that the analysis, the first to look at the last 20 years of wind speeds across the entire planet, indicated that on average winds over the oceans have picked up 5%, and that the extremely strong winds caused by storms have increased by 10%.

If the wind increase keeps up, it might be good news for off-shore wind energy (up to a point), but warns Young, a long time Dean of Engineering at Swinburne, that could also impact “engineering design of coastal and offshore structures, coastal erosion, and marine ecosystems.”

To gather this data, the team assembled global measurements dating back to 1985 from satellites that used radar altimeters, which work similarly to bats’ echolocation, or natural radar.

The orbiting satellites shoot radio waves at Earth and listen for the echoes that bounce back into space. When winds are blowing hard, the radar echoes are fainter, giving a measure of how strong the wind is blowing over the oceans.

The results would seem to run counter to a widely quoted 2009 study from Eugene Takle (Iowa State) that found that US winds have slowed over thirty years, at least at 30 feet, the height of airport monitors, by 15 to 30 percent. But Takle’s study looked just at the US, however, and found that most of the stilling found in the 2009 study came from East of the Mississippi. (Mountain top removal slows wind speeds and the Appalachias are East of the Mississippi).

By contrast, Young’s is the first study to tabulate wind speeds worldwide.

“If this is related to global warming—and this is speculation—it indicates that either the intensity of storms is increasing or the frequency of storms is increasing,” said Young.

Bill McKibben is the author of Eaarth – making a life on a tough new planet. Because we are changing the planet so much, McKibben suggests that we need a new name for it.

Susan Kraemer @Twitter

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