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Shipwrecks, tree rings reveal hurricanes.

Records of Spanish shipwrecks combined with tree-ring records show the period 1645-1715 had the fewest Caribbean hurricanes since 1500, according to research led by the University of Arizona, Tucson. A 75% reduction in the number of Caribbean hurricanes was found; this during a time with little sunspot activity and cool temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere. "By combining shipwreck data and tree-ring data, we are extending the Caribbean hurricane record back in time and that improves our understanding of hurricane variability, says lead author Valerie Trouet, associate professor in the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research.

Although global climate models indicate hurricanes will be more intense as the climate warms, those models are not yet good at making regional predictions, Trouet points out. Learning more about how hurricanes correlated with climate for the past 500 years may lead to better regional predictions. "We're providing information that can help those models become more precise."

What is now the U.S. National Hurricane Center did not begin keeping records of Caribbean hurricanes until 1850. Researchers have used lake sediments to develop a record of hurricanes over the past centuries, but this data provides only century-level resolution. The new research provides an annual record of Caribbean hurricanes going back to the year 1500--shortly after Christopher Columbus first reached the Caribbean.

Ship traffic between Spain and the Caribbean became commonplace. Spain kept detailed records of the comings and goings of ships--at the time, ships returning with gold and other goods provided the income for the Spanish kingdom. Storms were the major reason that ships wrecked in the Caribbean.

When they overlapped shipwreck data with tree-ring data, the researchers discovered the reduction in a time period known as the Maunder Minimum, which is so named because there was a low in sunspot activity during that time. Because Earth receives less solar radiation during lulls in sunspot activity, the Northern Hemisphere was cooler during the Maunder Minimum than in the time periods before or after.

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Title Annotation:The Caribbean
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2016
Words:326
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