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10.10b.3 Three Cyclones Churn off Australia

Mosaic of photos taken by satellites on March 11, 2015, showing three cyclones (Olwyn, Nathan, and Pam) traveling east at the same time across the South Pacific.

United States. National Aeronautics and Space Administration
2015 March 11
Photograph

"Three Cyclones Churn Off Australia," NASA Earth Observatory, March 11, 2015, https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/85482/three-cyclones-churn-off-australia

Climate change contributes to sea level rise and more frequent and intense storms that flood coastal areas. This map is a mosaic of photos taken by satellites on March 11, 2015. It shows three cyclones (Olwyn, Nathan, and Pam) traveling east at the same time across the South Pacific. Cyclone Pam (farthest to the east) was a Category 5 storm with sustained winds of 155 miles per hour and gusts up to 190 miles per hour. A cyclone is the same as a hurricane. The term cyclone is used for storms in the western Pacific, and hurricane is used for storms in the eastern Pacific, the Atlantic, and the Caribbean. Pam devastated the nation of Tuvalu (to the northeast of the area seen in this photo) and destroyed the homes of 45 percent of Tuvalu's people. In the past, this region experienced only five cyclones, on average, per season. In mid-March 2015, there were three cyclones at the same time, along with six more during the season.

As storm events increase in frequency and intensity due to global warming, coastal regions will face even greater challenges adapting to sea level rise. Climate change is increasing the likelihood of flooding during storms in two ways: (1) by increasing the level of the oceans and therefore tidal surges, and (2) because warmer air holds more moisture and produces more rain. The storm surge from a cyclone like Pam is high enough to wash over an island completely, destroying buildings and crops and damaging agricultural land. You may wish to supplement this map with a map of areas of the world that are at risk of flooding from sea level rise.