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Does cleaner air mean more hurricanes? A new study says it does

Air that is cleaner appears to be contributing to more Atlantic hurricanes, according to a new study.

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The study published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances showed that during the past 40 years, a 50% decrease in the amount of aerosols over the United States and Europe led to a 33% increase in the number of tropical storms in the Atlantic.

Aerosols can trap warmth higher up in the atmosphere, while reducing the amount of heat reaching the planet’s surface.

“Decreasing aerosol emissions is something that’s good for human health; but on the other hand, we found there are some bad effects when we reduce aerosol emissions — and that is hurricane activity,” Hiro Murakami, the lead author of the study and a scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, told CNN.

Researchers involved in the study said they tried to find other reasons for the increase in storm activity.

Murakami ran climate computer simulations to measure storm activity in different parts of the globe that couldn’t be explained by natural climate cycles. He found the increase was likely linked to aerosol pollution from industry and cars, The Associated Press reported.

Also backing up Murakami’s theory was research that showed a 40% increase in aerosol pollution in China and India over the same 40-year period saw a 14% decline in the number of tropical cyclones in the western North Pacific.

According to Murakami, other factors play a part in tropical cyclone activity such as La Nina and El Nino conditions. La Nina and El Nino are natural fluctuations in the water temperature of the Pacific near the equator.

Greenhouse gas emissions will likely start to have more influence on hurricanes, according to the study, especially on the intensity of storms.

“Climate science is very complex and it’s a work in progress, especially for hurricane activity,” Murakami added. “What we saw in the past 40 years may not be applied to the future, so we may see something much different.”

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