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Report Links Sunspots, Weather, High Seas Piracy

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March 13, 2016

Scientists have found a link between the number of hurricanes and the number of piracy incidents in the 18th and 19th Centuries.

The scientists, led by Valerie Trouet at the University of Arizona, concluded that by analyzing tree ring data, they could conclude how much hurricane activity had taken place during a given period of time. The tree rings analyzed were not only from trees on land but from wood making up ships that had found their final resting place at the bottom of the sea, in this case the Caribbean.

Hurricanes are known to uproot, ravage, and otherwise sharply affect the growth of trees. Historians and scientists also know of a drop in sunspot activity, during the 18th and 19th Centuries, that cut down on the amount of solar radiation that reached Earth. Between 1707 and 1825, scientists found a 75 percent decrease in the number of hurricanes and also a drop in the occurrence of sunspots (a time known as the Maunder Minimum). 

Lesser amounts of solar radiation can lead to fewer extreme weather activities, including hurricanes. Fewer hurricanes means more opportunities for ships to take to the seas, and that also means more opportunities for pirate vessels to find new targets.

The team also featured scientists from the University of Southern Mississippi and from the University of Santiago de Compostela in Lugo, Spain.

A related finding was that the temperature in the Caribbean area was lower during the time period the scientists studied. One possibility, the scientists said, is to use this understanding of a link between heat levels and hurricane activity to help with future weather prediction models.

The findings appeared in an early March edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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