LONDON GLOBAL warming could trigger hurricanes, or tropical cyclones, over the Mediterranean sea, threatening one of the world's most densely populated coastal regions, according to European scientists.

Hurricanes currently form out in the tropical Atlantic and rarely reach Europe, but a new study shows a 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) rise in average temperatures could set them off in the enclosed Mediterranean in future. “This is the first study to detect this possibility,” lead researcher Miguel Angel Gaertner of the University of Castilla-La Mancha in Toledo, Spain, told Reuters yesterday. “Most models in our study show increasing storm intensity and if you combine this with rising sea levels, as are projected, this could be damaging for many coastal settlements.” As well as being home to millions, the Mediterranean coast is also a major centre of tourism, which would be under threat.
Factors influencing hurricanes include warm sea surface temperatures and atmospheric instability. In the past, they have been confined to a limited number of regions, such as the north Atlantic and north Pacific, where they are known as typhoons. Recently, however, they have been forming in unusual places, which Gaertner sees as a clear danger signal. In 2004, Hurricane Catarina formed in the south Atlantic and hit land in southern Brazil. A year later, Hurricane Vince formed next to the Madeira Islands and became the first to make landfall in Spain.

Gaertner has found that rising temperatures point to increasing storm intensity and, in the case of the most sensitive computer model, a likelihood of strong hurricanes. Gaertner said a large number of uncertainties remained and it was not yet possible to say which parts of the Mediterranean would be hardest hit.