Devastating storms over the past two years have brought more attention to Atlantic hurricanes than ever before. Partly as a result, one institution is also getting more attention: the Bermuda Biological Station for Research, or BBSR, a marine biology and oceanographic research institution.
Many years ago, the station seized an opportunity to learn more about Atlantic storms and share that information with insurers and reinsurers. It launched what is known as the Risk Prediction Initiative.
"Having RPI at BBSR provides a valuable link between climate scientists, oceanographers and catastrophe reinsurers," says Dr. Tony Knap, director of the not-for-profit BBSR and founder of the RPI.
"The ocean is one of the most important factors controlling climate variability on interannual time scales, and BBSR's connections within the scientific community provide an ideal conduit for bringing scientific knowledge to Bermuda," Knap says.
Last year, for example, sponsors of RPI attended a workshop titled "Assessing, Modeling and Monitoring the Impacts of Extreme Climate Events."
More than 25 of the world's leading scientists participated.
Recent scientific publications suggest that over the past few decades, there has been an increase in the power of hurricanes and in the number of Category-4 and Category-5 hurricanes.
But these findings are controversial, because of the limitations inherent in the historical "best-track" data on hurricanes and because of our understanding of variability in sea surface temperatures.
Storm information since the 1970s is of relatively high quality since satellites began providing continuous observations.
But there are problems associated with changes in satellites, instrumentation and the analytical skills of meteorologists. All of these factors contribute to the controversy involved with interpreting changes in hurricane intensity.
RPI and its sponsors, aware of these limitations, are supporting new research designed to improve our knowledge. It funds a group of scientists working to reconcile historical and archival records of hurricane landfall with modern computer simulations that recreate the track, size and intensity of the storms.
"The best track data form the foundation for a large fraction of tropical cyclone research and the basis of all the hurricane wind CAT models," says Dr. Rick Murnane, the program manager for the RPI. "Best-track data for all the ocean basins requires this kind of labor-intensive reanalysis."
--David Fox, director of information services for the Bermuda Insurance Market
October 1, 2006
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