How do hurricanes affect the hydrosphere is a fascinating question.
Heat from the sun makes ocean water warmer, creating water vapor by evaporation. When water vapor condenses, heat is released, helping fuel storms.
Storms have a massive impact on coastal communities.
Hurricanes impact all these spheres. Atmospheric patterns are so complex that prediction and study of hurricanes are most difficult.
For a hurricane to form, the water must be at least 80 degrees Fahrenheit warm and around 164 feet deep.
They occur when:
- Storms move over areas where ocean water is warm
- There are low winds outside the storm
- There is much moisture.
When winds cross warm ocean water, moist air rises rapidly. As it does so, it cools and condenses, forming sizable storm clouds and releasing much heat, which causes strong winds.
These winds push even hotter air upward. Hurricanes have winds of 74 mph or more. A major hurricane has winds of at least 111 mph. 39 through 73 mph makes it a tropical storm.
In the northern hemisphere, hurricane season lasts from June through November. Hurricanes normally take days to develop, with two being the minimum.
If there is a cluster of thunderstorms, however, it could take as little as one day.
People residing near the coast usually have a few days’ warning of a hurricane. This gives them time to leave the scene.
Hurricanes usually last from 12 through 24 hours. Hurricane John earned a Guinness World Record when it lasted over a month in 1994.
The deadliest hurricane to ever hit the United States was the Great Galveston Hurricane of 1900. This killed something from 8,000 through 12,000 people.
The most expensive natural disaster in U.S. history was Hurricane Katrina in 2005, costing $170 bn.
Hurricanes over the ocean are dangerous to ships at sea. Many shipwrecks were caused in the days before modern weather forecasting.
Oil and gas platforms, however, are unable to move, leaving them open to damage.
The impact of a hurricane might last for years or even decades. Worldwide, around 10,000 people die each year due to hurricanes and tropical storms.
It is widely believed that climate change will lead to more hurricanes because the temperature of oceans will rise. This is the subject of much research.
Studies revealed that climate change substantially increased the intensity of Hurricanes Harvey in 2017 and Florence in 2018.
Michael Oppenheimer, professor of geosciences and international affairs at Princeton University, warned, “It’s not a pretty picture. … [W]e expect future hurricanes to leave an even greater trail of damage in their wake.”
What NASA’s take?
There’s also the opinion of NASA to consider.
The co-director of the Center for Climate Sciences at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, who also leads the science team of the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder instrument on NASA’s Aqua satellite, Joao Teixeira, called it “a relatively well-accepted fact”.
As global temperatures increase, extreme rainfall will most likely also increase. But he noted, “Beyond that, we’re still learning.”
A Study by NASA
A study by NASA in 2018 found that for every 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit that sea surface temperature increased, the number of extreme storms rose up by around 21 percent.
Considering current projections of the global climate, extreme storms would increase by 60 percent by the year 2100.
This echoed the findings of three previously published papers, but the authors admitted that much uncertainty remains.
This was apparent in one recent study (Knutson et al., Nature Geoscience, Feb. 2010) that predicted fewer but stronger hurricanes.
Every second, a large hurricane unleashes the energy of 10 nuclear bombs. How does hurricanes affect the hydrosphere? They typically dump anything from six inches through a foot of rain.
They cause sea levels to rise as much as 30 feet — storm surge. This water is salty to the extent that it poisons marshes and bays.
It reduces the supply of drinking water and destroys habitats. It might kill trees standing in freshwater.
Floods from storm surge generally last only for a few hours but can cause considerable damage. If this happens at high tide, there is more flooding.
Hurricanes consist of huge rotating rain bands with clear skies at the center. This is known as the eye and is typically 20 through 40 miles wide.
Around the eye is the eyewall, featuring the strongest winds.
Hurricanes require a constant supply of warm, moist air, ending rapidly when they lose their source of energy. This is frequently due to moving across land or cold water.
While hurricanes are thought of as strong winds, it is water that presents the greatest threat.
With much of the United States’ coast being less than 10 feet above sea level, the danger is great. Around half of U.S. fatalities from hurricanes result from water.
Water from a hurricane could run into a river or be absorbed by the ground, becoming groundwater.
It can erode coastal lands and flood low-lying areas. Flooding can cause extremely damaging waste products and chemicals to enter the ocean, harming many animals.
In southeast Texas in 2017, Hurricane Harvey sent as much as 2,200 pounds of chromium and 1,400 pounds of nickel into Galveston Bay.
Environmental engineer Hanadi Rifai remarked, “The total amount of metals going into the bay is really big.” If hurricanes contaminate drinking water, people can suffer illness.
At sea, hurricanes reach only around 300 feet down, roughly the size of the Statue of Liberty.
As a hurricane crosses an ocean, it churns up water, mixing warmer water at the surface with cooler water from further down. This is rich in nutrients.
The process is upwelling, which can help prompt food production by supplying phytoplankton with nutrients.
Phytoplankton makes most of the food present in the ocean. Animals higher up the food chain, be they fish, marine mammals or sea birds, consume it.
The downside of upwelling is that it can move the larvae of marine creatures long distances from their natural habitat. Their chance of survival is thus reduced.
Hurricanes can be deadly for mature sea creatures, stranding them on land or far out at sea. Slow-moving fish, turtles and shellfish beds suffer greatly from the harsh undercurrents and fast changes in water temperature produced by hurricanes.
There has been research showing that sharks feel barometric pressure falling when a major storm arises.
They then swim to deeper water, where they will be safer.
The disturbance caused by a hurricane underwater shifts sand and even large boulders and makes shallow waters muddy, blocking the sunlight essential to coral and sea creatures.
Read Next: How Does Wind Cause Weathering?
Hurricanes are sometimes beneficial. They are effective drought busters.
So now you know all about how do hurricanes affect the hydrosphere.