SEE undergrad heads hurricane study published in Nature journal

SEE undergrad heads hurricane study published in Nature journal

Weaver to attend the University of Pennsylvania after graduation for a Ph.D. in Earth and Environmental Science

Publishing the results of her work this week in the journal Nature Scientific Reports, Mackenzie Weaver achieved a rare collegiate milestone, especially for an undergraduate.

Weaver, a senior Environmental Science major in the School of Earth & Environment (SEE), published her two-year study on the changing nature of tropical cyclones. The study shows how, in the latter part of the 21st century, the storms are likely to form closer to the southeastern U.S. coast than they have historically, increasing the potential to cause damage as they move up the eastern seaboard.

The findings warn that, should human-made carbon and other emissions (which act as heat-trapping gases in our atmosphere) remain high, the changing nature of tropical cyclones – hurricanes – will be more likely to affect states with major population centers along the East Coast.

Weaver, who prior to publishing the study presented her findings at December’s American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting in Chicago, said a major fallout of the predicted weather patterns is that, because storms may form closer to the East Coast as opposed to farther west in the tropics or closer to Africa, there would be less warning time for governments and residents to prepare for landfall.

“One problem is that the Eastern U.S. has coastal communities that are not accustomed to storms of that kind happening ,” Weaver said. “When storms form further east there are more days to prepare.”

Weaver published her work with co-author Dr. Andra Garner, an assistant professor of Environmental Science. The study is based on some 37,000 computer-modelled tropical cyclones from pre-industrial times through the end of this century.

“Our work takes large-scale climate models that tell us about general atmospheric conditions and uses that information to create simulated hurricanes, so we can see how storms behave in different climates,” Garner said.

As part of the study, Weaver and Garner used hurricane data sets provided by Dr. Kerry Emanuel, a prominent meteorologist and climate scientist at MIT.

The resulting article, “Varying genesis and landfall locations for North Atlantic tropical cyclones in a warmer climate,” published April 4.

Weaver said her work began during lockdown in 2021, processing historic and computer-modelled hurricane data on her laptop from home.

Entering her final semester with a 3.9 GPA, Weaver heads to the University of Pennsylvania after graduation to pursue a Ph.D. in Earth and Environmental Science. Though she hasn’t yet identified her exact career path, Weaver sees a future in risk management where her work may help prevent loss of life and property.

As for her first published scientific paper, Weaver is thrilled for her accomplishment but said the findings are troubling, especially if greenhouse gas-trapping emissions continue to rise.

“The findings are based on the assumption of a higher emissions future,” she said. What makes them worrisome is that “if hurricanes are forming so close there will be decreased warning time, and that’s one of the hardest things to adapt to.”