photo by Ian Sanderson (iansand on Flickr Creative Commons)

A new study explores the relationship between tropical storms and the color of the ocean.

Areas of ocean with more chlorophyll-rich phytoplankton have a green tint. Chlorophyll prevents sunlight from penetrating deep into the ocean meaning surface temperatures remain higher. Warmer surface temperatures mean more tropical storms, such as cyclones or hurricanes.

From an AFP report:

Cold water in turn causes changes in air circulation patterns, forcing strong winds aloft, “which tend to prevent thunderstorms from developing the necessary superstructure that allows them to grow into hurricanes,” the researchers said.

Massive spiraling ocean currents called gyres are areas with less phytoplankton and therefore little marine life. According to biogeochemist Manfredi Manizza, of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in California, climate change will probably make the oceans’ gyres even less productive.

The study, led by oceanographer Anand Gnanadesikan of the U.S. Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, models how hurricanes might respond to a change in ocean color. When the computer model ‘drained’ the North Pacific Gyre of green color and heat, 2/3 less storms left the tropics than usual on their path from equatorial Southeast Asia towards Japan and China.

Read more in the following article in National Geographic:

Ocean Color Can Deflect Hurricanes, Study Suggests