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Low Atlantic hurricane activity in the 1970s and 1980s compared to the past 270 years

Hurricane Floyd, 1999.  NASA GSFC image by Hal Pierce.
Hurricane Floyd, 1999.
Data from NOAA GOES satellite. Image produced by Hal Pierce, Laboratory for Atmospheres, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Low Atlantic hurricane activity in the 1970s and 1980s compared to the past 270 years

Vol. 447, Number 7145, pp. 698-702, 7 June 2007, doi:10.1038/nature05895.

Johan Nyberg1, Björn A. Malmgren2, Amos Winter3, Mark R. Jury4, K. Halimeda Kilbourne5,6 and Terrence M. Quinn5,7,8

1 Geological Survey of Sweden, Box 670, SE-751 28 Uppsala, Sweden
2 Department of Earth Sciences, Göteborg University, Box 460, SE-405 30 Göteborg, Sweden
3 Department of Marine Sciences, University of Puerto Rico, PO Box 9013
4 Department of Physics, University of Puerto Rico, PO Box 9016, PR 00681-9013, Mayagüez, Puerto Rico.
5 College of Marine Science, University of South Florida, 140, St Petersburg, Florida 33707, USA
6 Physical Sciences Division R/PSD1, NOAA, Earth System Research Laboratory, 325 Broadway, Boulder, Colorado 80305, USA
7 Department of Geological Sciences, Jackson School of Geosciences, University of Texas at Austin, 1 University Station C1100, Austin, TX 78712
8 Institute for Geophysics, J. J. Pickle Research Campus, University of Texas at Austin, 10100 Burnet Road, Austin, Texas 78758, USA
Hurricane activity in the North Atlantic Ocean has increased significantly since 1995. This trend has been attributed to both anthropogenically induced climate change and natural variability, but the primary cause remains uncertain. Changes in the frequency and intensity of hurricanes in the past can provide insights into the factors that influence hurricane activity, but reliable observations of hurricane activity in the North Atlantic only cover the past few decades. Here we construct a record of the frequency of major Atlantic hurricanes over the past 270 years using proxy records of vertical wind shear and sea surface temperature (the main controls on the formation of major hurricanes in this region) from corals and a marine sediment core. The record indicates that the average frequency of major hurricanes decreased gradually from the 1760s until the early 1990s, reaching anomalously low values during the 1970s and 1980s. Furthermore, the phase of enhanced hurricane activity since 1995 is not unusual compared to other periods of high hurricane activity in the record and thus appears to represent a recovery to normal hurricane activity, rather than a direct response to increasing sea surface temperature. Comparison of the record with a reconstruction of vertical wind shear indicates that variability in this parameter primarily controlled the frequency of major hurricanes in the Atlantic over the past 270 years, suggesting that changes in the magnitude of vertical wind shear will have a significant influence on future hurricane activity.
Download data from the WDC Paleo archive:
Coral Luminescence Data and
Estimated Number of Major Hurricanes and Vertical Windshear.

To read or view the full study, please visit the Nature website.
It was published in Nature, Vol. 447, Number 7145, pp. 698-702, 7 June 2007, doi:10.1038/nature05895.
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