(CN) – Major hurricanes and the accompanying damage and displacement of people will be more common along the Northeastern U.S. coastline as carbon dioxide emissions continue to shift weather patterns.
A study published Wednesday in the journal Scientific Reports finds that carbon dioxide produces a warming effect that has led to a northward shift of hurricane landfalls since industrialization.
British researchers identified the trend after analyzing the chemical composition of a stalagmite found in a cave in southern Belize, which allowed the team to reconstruct hurricane rain patterns for the western Caribbean dating back 450 years.
The average number of hurricanes at the Belize site decreased over time, while records in places like Florida and Bermuda suggested more northern areas have been experiencing more hurricanes.
This change in hurricane activity aligned with increasing carbon dioxide and aerosol emissions associated with the 19th century industrial boom, the team found.
“Since the 19th century this shift was largely driven by man-made emissions, and if these emissions continue as expected this will result in more frequent and powerful storms affecting the financial and population centers of the Northeastern United States,” said lead author Lisa Baldini, a researcher from Durham University in England.
The regional cooling effect of the Northern Hemisphere produced by increased industrial aerosol emissions should have forced hurricanes southward, according to the team. But carbon dioxide emissions overrode this effect and expanded the Hadley cell – a pattern of circulating air in Earth’s tropical belt.
Expanding the Hadley cell pushed the hurricane track northward, shifting away from the western Caribbean toward the Atlantic seaboard.
“This suggests that the tracks of Atlantic hurricanes have responded more to warming than to regional cooling,” said study co-author Amy Frappier, with the geosciences department at Skidmore College in New York.
The British researchers pointed to 2012’s Hurricane Sandy – the second-costliest hurricane in U.S. history – as an example of storms that will become more common as this trend continues, and recommended officials prepare for such a reality.
“Given the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy, it is important that plans are put in place to protect against the effects of similarly destructive storms which could potentially occur more often in the future,” Baldini said.