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Study finds Hurricane Sandy literally shook Earth; Could global warming increase storm intensity?

A newly released study finds Superstorm Sandy literally shook part of Earth.

According to a study published by Oner Sufri, a geophysics doctoral student at the University of Utah, the rapid shaking from the massive storm was felt as far away as the West coast of the United States.

Following Hurricane Sandy’s turn west, the massive storm — which eventually traveled at far north as Nova Scotia, Canada — sent waves crashing into the coast of the northeast. Now, it seems seismometers placed around the country picked up the impact of those waves, the first example of a massive storm sending shock waves across the country.

According to Sufri, the massive superstorm created a phenomenon known as standing waves. Standing waves — wave-on-wave collisions that direct most of their energy toward the seafloor — exerted enough energy to shift the seafloor, creating a series of shock waves the resembled an earthquake.

The shock waves emitted by the storm were the equivalent to a magnitude-2 earthquake, said Sufri. While the shock waves were picked by equipment meant to observe earthquake, the tremors caused by Sandy — known as microseisms — were similar in nature, according to Sufri. While the equipment captured data on both energy emitted by standing waves and waves slamming into the coast, the energy emitted downward on the seafloor far exceeded that of surface waves.

While the study is the first to observe shock waves reverberating across the U.S., it is not the first study to examine how the energy emitted by hurricanes extends nationwide. When Hurricane Katrina struck  New Orleans in 2005, instruments in California tracked the path of the punishing waves, said Sufri.

The study comes as researchers have suggested that rising temperatures from global warming could increase the intensity of hurricanes and northeastern storms. Research released in 2012 by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) showed evidence of rising temperatures linked with an increased intensity of storms. Additional modeling showed the higher temperatures could eventually lead to stronger storms, although NOAA scientists said the evidence was preliminary at best and that additional research was needed.

The study also comes just under a year after the massive storm slammed the eastern seaboard of the U.S. The storm, one of the largest to strike the U.S., captured national attention and forced cities from Washington, D.C., to New York and Boston to shut down. The storm is thought to have cost the U.S. economy over $50 billion, making it the deadliest hurricane to hit the U.S. in 40 years and the second-costliest in the nation’s history (Hurricane Katrina cost an estimated $108 billion).

Sufri has suggested that examining the energy emitted by past storms could provide insight into how global warming is shaping and changing the nature of hurricanes.  For example, Sufri said data collected from future storms could provide scientists with a model to examine past storms and their corresponding intensity.

The report was presented at the annual meeting of the Seismological Society of America.

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