Tropical cyclones broke some records in 2018, and they also churned up the ocean surface and left swaths of cooler water in their wake. GSO professor Isaac Ginis says that the surface cooling effect can span hundreds of kilometers across the ocean surface and typically reach 500 to 650 feet down into the ocean. The more intense the cyclone, the deeper the stirring and mixing effects can be, reaching down to 1,300 feet with the most intense storms. Because all of that pre-cyclone surface heat has to go somewhere, it warms deeper layers of the ocean. Years with many intense hurricanes and typhoons can drive significant amounts of heat into the ocean, but the laws of physics say it has to come out eventually. Ginis and other oceanographers are investigating the long-term effects of this heat-pumping phenomenon.
“We need more investigations to figure out where this heat comes out because it could have significant climatological implications,” Ginis says. “We hear a lot about how climate change might affect tropical cyclones, but it also may be that cyclones will affect climate. This is not often reflected in climate models.”