Bill Gates takes on hurricanes

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 2:49 PM GMT on July 27, 2009

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Bill Gates thinks big. His charitable foundation has poured $1 billion into the fight against that great scourge of humankind, malaria, resulting in the creation of a new vaccine that is 100% effective in mice, and is now headed towards trials in humans. If successful, Gates' efforts have the potential to save millions of lives. Gates has also turned his attention to another great scourge of humankind, the hurricane. In a 2008 patent filing that recently came to light, Bill Gates and his friends presented a scheme for reducing the strength of hurricanes by cooling sea surface temperatures, using a fleet of ships that bring up cold water from the depths. Can Gates really pull this off? I don't think so. The obstacles are fourfold: technical, financial, environmental, and legal.


Figure 1. A diagram from a 2008 Bill Gates patent filing, depicting an array of hurricane-control vessels in the Gulf of Mexico. Image credit: techflash.com.

Technical issues
While modification of hurricanes is theoretically possible, the scale of the undertaking is truly enormous. A fleet of dozens or hundreds of ships spanning a huge swath of ocean would be required, and these ships would have to be able to withstand the 50-foot waves and 160 mph winds a major Category 5 hurricane could deliver. As I discussed when a similar scheme was proposed in 2006 by Atmocean, Inc., it is not clear how long the cold water pumped to the surface will stay there--the cold water pumped to the surface is more dense than the water beneath it, and so will tend to sink, allowing warmer water beneath to replace it and warm the surface waters again. Modeling studies and field studies are needed to determine if the cold water can stay at the surface long enough to significantly affect a hurricane. Furthermore, simply cooling the ocean may have no effect on a hurricane, if the storm is in a favorable upper-atmospheric environment with low wind shear.

Financial issues
Any hurricane modification effort is going to be tremendously expensive. The cost of the array of cooling pumps proposed by Atmocean in 2006 for the Gulf of Mexico was pegged at $2.4 billion. Gates' scheme would have a similar cost. He proposes paying for it through government funding and the sale of insurance policies in hurricane-prone areas.

Environmental issues
A large change to the ocean temperatures over a wide area of ocean is bound to have significant--and unknown--impacts on fisheries and wildlife. Regional weather patterns may also be affected, intensifying droughts or bringing heavy rains and flooding.

Legal issues
Hurricanes naturally make sudden unpredictable course shifts, and the hurricane modification efforts are also capable of causing track shifts in a storm. Residents on the coast hit by the modified storm will want to sue, and there will be many lawyers more than happy to take their case. Gates would have to get special legislation passed to protect his company from lawsuits, such Congress passed for the gun industry in 2006.

Summary
In summary, we simply don't know enough about hurricanes yet to safely engage in modifying them. A lot more research is needed before we should spend the huge sums needed to attempt hurricane modification. The Department of Homeland Security has a $1 million research effort going that will attempt to answer some of these questions, called HURRMIT (The Identification and Testing of Hurricane Mitigation Hypotheses). The HURRMIT program is evaluating the potential of a number of hurricane modification techniques, including:

Seeding with tiny hygroscopic aerosols to suppress warm rain (Rosenfeld et al. 2007 and Cotton et al., 2007)

Seeding with radiation-absorbing aerosols (i.e., carbon black) at the storm periphery (Gray et al., 1976)

Seeding with radiation-absorbing aerosols (i.e., carbon black) at storm top (Alamaro et al., 2006)

Pumping cool water from the depths to the ocean surface in front of the hurricane (Ginis and Kithil, 2008)

Frankly, I'm dubious that the money being spent on HURRMIT is worth it, given the four huge obstacles to hurricane modification I presented above. However, the research may provide some new insights into hurricane intensification that we don't have now.

For more insight on this issue, read the Washington Post article published on this subject earlier this year.

In closing, I'll present the proposal one reader of an New Orleans online newspaper had:

"[Bill Gates] should just have one of his employees write an ActiveX Script for Google maps so we can just highlight the hurricane, right click on it, then select delete. Or maybe just cut and paste it farther out into the Atlantic Ocean."

Controlling hurricanes, Hollywood style
Hollywood's latest attempt to create a weather disaster epic is itself a disaster, as many of you who suffered through last night's installment of "The Storm" miniseries on NBC will agree. The uninspired plot involves government/military bad guys and a noble scientist who heroically tries to save the world, with a good measure of made-for-TV chase scenes, murders, and special effects thrown in. The hero scientist Dr. Jonathan Kirk (James Van Der Beek) has a scheme whereby one can control the weather by bouncing crackling streams of energy from a ground-based array of dishes off of satellites and into the ionosphere, which then gets "peeled away like an onion". Dr. Kirk then uses the energy to bring life-giving rains to the Sudan, and to steer a hurricane away from Florida. The trouble is, he doesn't quite have things figured out. Unintended side effects occur, such as the Mojave Desert getting 8 inches of snow the day after 112°F temperatures. More problematically, the hurricane heading for Florida strengthens instead of weakening. In one scene, a radar animation of the hurricane off the coast of Florida shows the powerful storm spinning clockwise instead of counter-clockwise, defying the laws of physics. Hmm, that's some pretty powerful weather control technology! The scientific basis for the weather control scheme is preposterous--ground-based energy streams beamed into the ionosphere would not appreciably affect the weather. The weather is made in the troposphere, the layer of atmosphere closest to the ground. Furthermore, the amount of energy needed to cause the kind of disturbances portrayed in the movie are enormous, similar in scale to the entire electrical output of the world. A small array of ground-based dishes could only channel perhaps a trillionth of the amount of energy required. The movie's special effects are cheesy, the acting average, the plot weak, and the science behind the the story completely implausible, making this weather disaster movie as disastrous as the equally rotten Day After Tomorrow movie. The movie's main redeeming grace is as a cautionary tale--weather modification on a large scale will certainly have unintended side effects, and we should not engage in such efforts until we have a much greater understanding of how the weather and climate work.

Scientific American has an interesting article that talks about the proposed Bill Gates hurricane modification idea in more detail.
Jeff Masters

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Sigh...

Ironically the same people who are downcasting this, are the same ones that will overcast it. It is the same every year--how tedious!
Member Since: July 19, 2008 Posts: 43 Comments: 4051
HaboobsRsweet,

I don't believe the season will be as active as previous years but at the same time, I don't believe some of these forecast being presented here. Things like 000 or 4 and such. To put into perpestive, 1977 has the same ACE as 2009 and yet it squeezed out 6, 5 of which were hurricanes including Anita. You mean to tell me that 1977 laid in an inactive period and 2009, which lays in active period is going to have less than 1977?
Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
1411. WxLogic
Quoting Drakoen:
Interesting NAM 18z, though we always have to keep in mind it is the NAM


Hehe... yeah... can't forget about that. Has been a while since I've seen a big "L" in the Carib... from any model.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Weather456 while I totally respect your abilities as a Met and you always bring valid points, you all kept bashing the folks that were doing 2 week forecasts in July saying nothing would form until late July. Sure enough that is what happened. Who is to say that some of us Mets can not forecast out two weeks in advance. Any good forecaster should be able to forecast a synoptic event two weeks out within 1 days time.
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I find this radar loop interesting. Watch the green line develop. Is there going to turn into a line of thunderstorms? Is this the east coast seabreeze? TIA

edit.. I'll try a still image instead of loop.

edit again.. I'll try link..
Link
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1408. WxLogic
Quoting futuremet:
NAM 18Z shows one of the waves coalescing in the Caribbean. I still think however, that Ana will form within 13 days.



I've been noticing that during the last couple runs. NAM has been hinting towards a more organized area of disturb WX which correlates to the TW @ 50W. Will be interesting to see how that wave will evolve or decay once it enters the Carib.
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1407. Drakoen
Interesting NAM 18z, though we always have to keep in mind it is the NAM
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Quoting BurnedAfterPosting:


let them have their day 456, it will pick up soon enough and the tone will change


Amen
Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
Quoting BurnedAfterPosting:


let them have their day 456, it will pick up soon enough and the tone will change

What happens if all the so called downcasters were right? Maybe they are on to something and all the wishful thinkers are off on their forecast this year. Even the UKMET office called for a quiet season, I believe only 6-8 named storms this year.
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The wave south of the cape verdes have persisted nicely considering what it went up against since it emerged on Sunday.

Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
I can say this though...call me a downcaster all you want but our weather pattern in the gulf states is currently setup similar to a normal mid June pattern. That might mean that Sept could be interesting for TC and maybe we have a late season rolling into Oct and even Nov but for the next two weeks, nothing really shows any signs for a TC to form. I would like to get the first one out of the way as much as anyone but I am not impressed with anything right now.
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NAM 18Z shows one of the waves coalescing in the Caribbean. I still think however, that Ana will form within 13 days.

Member Since: July 19, 2008 Posts: 43 Comments: 4051
Quoting Weather456:
Normal ACE thru 31 July is 7.6

Average season from June 1 to November 30 is 106.

So basically the downcasting frenzy thus far is a lost cause...lol


let them have their day 456, it will pick up soon enough and the tone will change
Normal ACE thru 31 July is 7.6

Average season from June 1 to November 30 is 106.

So basically the downcasting frenzy thus far is a lost cause...lol
Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
Man we have been so unstable for over a week now. Pretty impressive stuff. Temps are way down from what they have been back at the end of June and early July. Def a big shift in the weather pattern.
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Nice LEWP...be interesting to see storm reports after this one. Wont be too much but might have 2-3 EF0 types.
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Quoting Weather456:
If anyone missed it

Record Low Global Activity

and for all those who honestly want something to track, have some patience and we will soon enough get one, somehow, this fenzy about a slow season is depressing.


Yea it will happen soon enough, still a long way to go in the hurricane season
Quoting NRAamy:
junkie...are you just trolling from blog to blog with the same question?



It's hurricanejunky...with a y...and no I'm not "trolling". I am actually pointing out something that is factually correct and annoying versus ragging on people or spreading misinformation. A little thin-skinned today?

HJ
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tornado warnings are flying out woohoo. That line is almost as long as the entire state of MS.
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If anyone missed it

Record Low Global Activity

and for all those who honestly want something to track, have some patience and we will soon enough get one, somehow, this fenzy about a slow season is depressing and the worst since I've been here, even worst than 2006.
Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
maybe only 90 percent of the area will see rain while 10 percent see nothing your making more of it then it is chill out go with the program not against it its easier that way

while that makes sense the line is going to take out the entire county and the whole county has had rain all day today. It is so dark outside right now it looks like midnight from this line going through...there goes the rain. Very windy...very nice.
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Quoting CybrTeddy:



Your putting stalk in a model 11 days out why..? :)


Because its a model, they cant be wrong, it tells the future.lol. Hold on give me a second here and ill pull out the majic model 8 ball. Outlook not so good.

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1391. NRAamy
junkie...are you just trolling from blog to blog with the same question?

Member Since: January 24, 2007 Posts: 316 Comments: 31944
As I stated this morning, for some persons predicting a quiet season, they are posting alot about the hurricane season. trust me, if I was hoping for all zeros I would be sitting back on the beach, not here reminding persons about sal and making 14 day forecasts.
Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
1389. help4u
My predections are going strong.2 storms,0 hurricanes,and 5 invests.
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What's with all the people starting non-weather related blogs in the wunderblogs? Jeez...

HJ
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1387. IKE
Quoting CybrTeddy:



Your putting stalk in a model 11 days out why..? :)


Because it's been doing a good job all year. Plus other models confirm what it's showing.

Actually it's only 10 days out.
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1386. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
Quoting HaboobsRsweet:
Why would the NWS forecast for southern MS say 90% chance of rain with a very solid line moving through and it has been rainign on and off all day? I mean come on really? Just say 100%.
maybe only 90 percent of the area will see rain while 10 percent see nothing your making more of it then it is chill out go with the program not against it its easier that way
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*peeks in around corner* Still nothing, huh? Phew. Guess all that beer we stockpiled will have to be used before it goes bad...lol But seriously, nice to see a quiet season for a change...hope it stays that way
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1384. Drakoen
Quoting IKE:
cyclonebuster and STORMTOP/stormno....is this what the 2009 season has become?


What ever happened to hurricaneseason2009 and his other username ;)
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My predictions are still going strong!

4 Named Storms
1 Hurricane
0 Major Hurricane

Member Since: March 19, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 1419
Quoting IKE:
Safe to take that Caribbean cruise through August 7th according to the 12Z ECMWF..........



Your putting stalk in a model 11 days out why..? :)
Member Since: July 8, 2005 Posts: 259 Comments: 23018
Why would the NWS forecast for southern MS say 90% chance of rain with a very solid line moving through and it has been rainign on and off all day? I mean come on really? Just say 100%.
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1380. SQUAWK
Quoting Dakster:


What about the idea to pour ICE from cargo planes into the Hurricane? And the other idea of crystals that would cause water to "gel". There have been a bunch of doozies... Cyclone Busters idea was interesting, even though impossible to implement.

The blog was entertaining during the cyclonebuster time.

I can tell the lull in activity is driving everyone crazy. Almost like watching water boil.



NOTHING IS WORSE THAN HAVING TO PUT UP WITH CYCLONE BUSTER AND HIS TUNNELS!!!! He is the worst one trick pony I have ever seen----period!!
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1379. IKE
cyclonebuster and STORMTOP/stormno....is this what the 2009 season has become?
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1378. NRAamy
"stormno"?

man, that's weak!
Member Since: January 24, 2007 Posts: 316 Comments: 31944
1377. Dakster
Quoting SQUAWK:


NOPE!!! Not gonna bite on that one. Nuthin is worse than that!!!


What about the idea to pour ICE from cargo planes into the Hurricane? And the other idea of crystals that would cause water to "gel". There have been a bunch of doozies... Cyclone Busters idea was interesting, even though impossible to implement.

The blog was entertaining during the cyclonebuster time.

I can tell the lull in activity is driving everyone crazy. Almost like watching water boil.

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1376. IKE
Quoting NRAamy:
NOPE!!! Not gonna bite on that one. Nuthin is worse than that!!!

nuthin'?

;)

STORMTOP!!!!!!!!!!!!!
;)


His SN is now stormno....he was just on here a couple of days ago after getting back from his vacation....
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1375. IKE
Quoting sammywammybamy:
Instead of Calling it the East Atlantic Ocean ... lets call it .... East desert


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1374. NRAamy
NOPE!!! Not gonna bite on that one. Nuthin is worse than that!!!

nuthin'?

;)

STORMTOP!!!!!!!!!!!!!
;)
Member Since: January 24, 2007 Posts: 316 Comments: 31944
1372. SQUAWK
Quoting NRAamy:
even cyclonebuster's tunnels is better than this...

;)


NOPE!!! Not gonna bite on that one. Nuthin is worse than that!!!
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CURRENT STATUS as at 22nd July 2009
Next update expected by 5th August 2009 (two weeks after this update).

Ocean conditions in the Pacific Basin remain at El Niño levels. Should they persist at such levels through the remainder of the southern winter and into spring, as predicted by the world's leading climate models, 2009 will be considered an El Niño year.

While El Niño indicators have fluctuated over the past few weeks, the overall picture remains one of a developing El Niño event.

However, some indicators run contrary to a normal El Niño development. The Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) is currently strongly positive: persistent negative values are a feature of El Niño events. Similarly, ocean temperatures in the western Pacific, Coral Sea and off northern Australia have been much warmer than during previous El Niño events.


Just some food for thought as we head into the peak of the season in a few weeks and the possible effects (if a "weak" El Nino) of the pattern during the peak as opposed to a full blown event.
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1369. NRAamy
even cyclonebuster's tunnels is better than this...

;)
Member Since: January 24, 2007 Posts: 316 Comments: 31944
1368. IKE
Quoting NRAamy:


LOL...it's a snoozer...

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1367. IKE
AREA FORECAST DISCUSSION
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE TALLAHASSEE FL
311 PM EDT TUE JUL 28 2009

.SHORT TERM (TONIGHT-THURSDAY NIGHT)...
RECENTLY ANIMATED WATER VAPOR LOOP SHOWED A SHORTWAVE TROUGH OVER
THE LOWER MS VALLEY BEGINNING TO SHIFT EAST-NORTHEAST TOWARD NRN MS
/AL. THIS FEATURE IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE INCREASING DEEP LAYER
MOISTURE AND ENHANCED SHOWER/TSTM ACTIVITY ACROSS PORTIONS OF THE
REGION TODAY. AT THE SURFACE...THE VERY PERSISTENT PATTERN THAT HAS
BEEN EXPERIENCED OVER THE PAST SEVERAL DAYS WILL CONTINUE WITH A
RIDGE AXIS EXTENDING WEST OVER THE GULF AND A FRONTAL BOUNDARY
NORTHWEST OF THE LOCAL AREA. THIS SYNOPTIC PATTERN PLACES OUR
FORECAST AREA IN A DEEP MOIST WEST-SOUTHWEST FLOW. MODEL PWAT VALUES
WILL REMAIN AROUND OR ABOVE THE TWO INCH MARK THROUGH THE MID-WEEK
PERIOD. THIS MOISTURE COMBINED WITH THE UPPER TROUGH AND A FEW WEAK
IMPULSES WILL SUPPORT ABOVE AVERAGE RAINFALL PROBABILITIES INTO
THURSDAY. TOTAL RAINFALL ACCUMULATIONS AREA WIDE ARE FORECAST TO
RANGE FROM 1 TO 2 INCHES THROUGH THIS PERIOD.

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1366. NRAamy
Member Since: January 24, 2007 Posts: 316 Comments: 31944
kmanislander, any truth to Hyperion's claim that your company's in negotiations to purchase nuclear power-generating sheds?
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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.