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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As far as predictions go, everyone of course is correct in saying that in the end, they're meaningless.

That is, everyone's predictions but my own!

0,0,0 is exactly where we stand today on July 28, 2009 and of even more importance, nothing is out there changing in order for TCs to form.

I've got this big giant crow bird just waiting to be basted and served up on this, but honestly...there are so many negatives to TC formation right now..."globally!" that in order for something to bakup up out there somewhere, very interesting and powerful systems have to change.

So here's a new poll...and this one actually will make sense to those of you who like to forecast:

List the current negative influences to TC development and when those conditions are favorable for change.

Don't just onesy and twosy it...make a complete list with forecast change dates if you can.

Thanks! That will be an interesting read!
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1312. Patrap
NexSat African Visible loop,with Eastern Atlantic
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128645
1310. IKE
Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
suns reflection from the sandy desert i believe ike that area is the sarhara desert nothing but sand and dust


I was thinking dust.
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
1309. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
Quoting IKE:


What is causing the bright color above the wave about to exit Africa?
suns reflection from the sandy desert i believe ike that area is the sarhara desert nothing but sand and dust
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 174 Comments: 54353
1308. Drakoen
The "dust low" weakening just allows another low to come off the African coast. It would have better if the low maintained itself to clear the area.
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Quoting StormChaser81:
Here we go hold on to your Hats.









This is "Official Post of the Blog" imo!

Great great post! LOL!
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sorry for the caps. that was a mistake.
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THANKS, STORMW. THAT WAS A VERY INFORMATIVE AND INTELLIGENT FORECAST. I LEARNED A LOT FROM IT.
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1302. IKE
Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
Meteosat Long-Wave Difference (SAL)



What is causing the bright color above the wave about to exit Africa?
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
hey stormW, thank you for the e-mail. Once we get into an upward swing I am sure I'll have many questions. Thanks again !
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205pm discussion says our wonderful "dust low" is weakening
1299. IKE
TROPICAL WEATHER OUTLOOK
NWS TPC/NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL
200 PM EDT TUE JUL 28 2009

FOR THE NORTH ATLANTIC...CARIBBEAN SEA AND THE GULF OF MEXICO...

TROPICAL CYCLONE FORMATION IS NOT EXPECTED DURING THE NEXT 48 HOURS.

$$
FORECASTER BERG

.......


I guess the 2 east-pac AOI's are about done. Looks like a record low ACE.



TROPICAL WEATHER OUTLOOK
NWS TPC/NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL
1100 AM PDT TUE JUL 28 2009

FOR THE EASTERN NORTH PACIFIC...EAST OF 140 DEGREES WEST LONGITUDE..

THE SHOWER ACTIVITY EXTENDING FROM THE SOUTHWEST COAST OF MEXICO
SOUTH-SOUTHWESTWARD FOR SEVERAL HUNDRED MILES HAS BECOME LESS
ORGANIZED SINCE YESTERDAY. THIS ACTIVITY IS EXPECTED TO MOVE TOWARD
THE WEST OR WEST-NORTHWEST AT 10 TO 15 MPH AND DEVELOPMENT...IF
ANY... SHOULD BE SLOW. THERE IS A LOW CHANCE...LESS THAN 30
PERCENT...OF THIS SYSTEM BECOMING A TROPICAL CYCLONE DURING THE
NEXT 48 HOURS.

A BROAD AND DISORGANIZED AREA OF DISTURBED WEATHER LOCATED ABOUT
1500 MILES SOUTHWEST OF THE SOUTHERN TIP OF BAJA CALIFORNIA IS
MOVING WESTWARD AROUND 10 TO 15 MPH. UPPER-LEVEL WINDS ARE BECOMING
LESS FAVORABLE FOR DEVELOPMENT. THERE IS A LOW CHANCE...LESS THAN
30 PERCENT...OF THIS SYSTEM BECOMING A TROPICAL CYCLONE DURING THE
NEXT 48 HOURS.

ELSEWHERE...TROPICAL CYCLONE FORMATION IS NOT EXPECTED DURING THE
NEXT 48 HOURS.

$$
FORECASTER AVILA
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
1298. SQUAWK
Quoting Patrap:
Predictions mean NADA,..zipola..its purely a Human need,.it has no bearing on anything.

Period.


BINGO!!!!
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
000
ABPZ20 KNHC 281732
TWOEP
TROPICAL WEATHER OUTLOOK
NWS TPC/NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL
1100 AM PDT TUE JUL 28 2009

FOR THE EASTERN NORTH PACIFIC...EAST OF 140 DEGREES WEST LONGITUDE..

THE SHOWER ACTIVITY EXTENDING FROM THE SOUTHWEST COAST OF MEXICO
SOUTH-SOUTHWESTWARD FOR SEVERAL HUNDRED MILES HAS BECOME LESS
ORGANIZED SINCE YESTERDAY. THIS ACTIVITY IS EXPECTED TO MOVE TOWARD
THE WEST OR WEST-NORTHWEST AT 10 TO 15 MPH AND DEVELOPMENT...IF
ANY... SHOULD BE SLOW. THERE IS A LOW CHANCE...LESS THAN 30
PERCENT...OF THIS SYSTEM BECOMING A TROPICAL CYCLONE DURING THE
NEXT 48 HOURS.

A BROAD AND DISORGANIZED AREA OF DISTURBED WEATHER LOCATED ABOUT
1500 MILES SOUTHWEST OF THE SOUTHERN TIP OF BAJA CALIFORNIA IS
MOVING WESTWARD AROUND 10 TO 15 MPH. UPPER-LEVEL WINDS ARE BECOMING
LESS FAVORABLE FOR DEVELOPMENT. THERE IS A LOW CHANCE...LESS THAN
30 PERCENT...OF THIS SYSTEM BECOMING A TROPICAL CYCLONE DURING THE
NEXT 48 HOURS.

ELSEWHERE...TROPICAL CYCLONE FORMATION IS NOT EXPECTED DURING THE
NEXT 48 HOURS.

$$
FORECASTER AVILA


Looks like this situation maybe weakening as well. :(
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1296. Patrap
Predictions mean NADA,..zipola..its purely a Human need,.it has no bearing on anything.

Period.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128645
1295. Patrap
Latest SAL Split window
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128645
Quoting SQUAWK:
I have a question. If you keep changing your predictions as the season wears on, what good are your predictions?? What purpose do they serve? When are we supposed to take them seriously, after the season is over? I guess I am trying to figure out what is the point??

Good Point!

Am sticking to mine...10/5/2
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1293. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
Meteosat Long-Wave Difference (SAL)

Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 174 Comments: 54353
1292. SQUAWK
I have a question. If you keep changing your predictions as the season wears on, what good are your predictions?? What purpose do they serve? When are we supposed to take them seriously, after the season is over? I guess I am trying to figure out what is the point??
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
1291. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
Quoting BurnedAfterPosting:


the dust, I need some eyedrops lol
maybe some goggles
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 174 Comments: 54353
Quoting BurnedAfterPosting:


the dust, I need some eyedrops lol


Ya! I noticed.
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Quoting cyclonekid:
Hi guys!

What is catching yall's eyes in the ATL?


the dust, I need some eyedrops lol
Hi guys!

What is catching yall's eyes in the ATL?
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1283. StormChaser81 1:24 PM EDT on July 28, 2009..........OUTstanding....Lol
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in light of everything that is coming to the forefront, I am changing my predictions for the season

-8 named storms
-5 hurricanes
-2 major hurricanes
Here we go hold on to your Hats.







Member Since: Posts: Comments:
1282. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
Quoting IKE:


From what I've seen a 1030 mb high will SAL it to death. Maybe I'll be wrong.

I don't see any sign of anything in the Atlantic for the next 10 days from any source. Tropical experts/computer models.





me too and beleive me iam looking but nada zip for next 10 14 days by then we will be approaching mid august its the great unknowned for now myself i am watching world activity to see if any other basin starts to pickup which could be the signal for our own basins increase in activity eventually
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 174 Comments: 54353
Quoting BayouBorn1965:
Has there ever been a year when there were no tropical storms or hurricanes?


probably, although in the WU archive every season had at least one system. 1914 had just one but before the use of satellite imagery there may have been more then one even in that season.
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1279. Drakoen
Quoting IKE:


From what I've seen a 1030 mb high will SAL it to death. Maybe I'll be wrong.

I don't see any sign of anything in the Atlantic for the next 10 days from any source. Tropical experts/computer models.







LOL!

That circulation over Africa may be being absorbed by a circulation further to the northeast
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Has there ever been a year when there were no tropical storms or hurricanes?
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Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
yes hello is anyone there
no.
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1275. IKE
Quoting extreme236:


If this wave actually develops over Africa I think the prospects for the season will be a bit less gloom, in my opinion.


From what I've seen a 1030 mb high will SAL it to death. Maybe I'll be wrong.

I don't see any sign of anything in the Atlantic for the next 10 days from any source. Tropical experts/computer models.





Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
floodzone---what city? I'm in New Bern
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
1273. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
Quoting Patrap:
.."Welcome to The Wunderground Main Blog,.. Caller"

.."go ahead,yer on the Air"!..


yes hello is anything there anything at all
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 174 Comments: 54353
As far as the "numbers" are concerned, this is just for fun during a slow period, but, no one knows what will actually happen and no one wants a hurricane unleashed upon them (and hopefully not upon anyone else). In a "perfect world", I would love to see a huge Cat 5 form in the middle of the Atlantic in late August and get rid of some of the pent up heat, become a fish and not threaten any land areas, but make the turn in such a way that it creates a nice big pool of cooler upwelling in the MDR waters to help suppress some of the intensity of any storms that might follow......Then, for sheer to rule come October and November and prevent any major storms from forming. That would be my perfect season.
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Even though most of would like to have a storm to track....... Be glad, the Troll Infestation is a lot lower this year. That will probably change come mid August, my very rookie prediction for the rest of the year is: August 2, September 4, October 3, November 1
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1270. JRRP
4 August
6 September
1 Oct
1 Nov
---------
12
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Quoting extreme236:


If this wave actually develops over Africa I think the prospects for the season will be a bit less gloom, in my opinion.


Yea it will be funny to watch the turnaround when there is a storm to track. It is easy to say it will be a dead season when its quiet out there
Quoting IKE:


I was hedging on 1 for August and I would have picked that, but I picked 10-4-2 as totals for 2009, back the end of June.

After looking at 12Z runs, I think 1 for August is a possibility.


If this wave actually develops over Africa I think the prospects for the season will be a bit less gloom, in my opinion.
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1267. IKE
Quoting sporteguy03:
Just to get some hopes up just guessing :)

8 August 6 September 1 Oct 1 Nov=16


LMAO!
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
1266. IKE
Quoting NRAamy:
ok, SQUAWK.....

AFTERNOON BLOG UPDATE:

the lack of any real action in the tropics this year has led to an interesting upturn in the economy....the NASDAQ is showing shares in Clearasil and Right Guard deoderant are sky-rocketing as weather geeks are forced to go outside and socialize....


Zits and body-odor....what a combo.

LOL.
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
Just to get some hopes up just guessing :)

8 August 6 September 1 Oct 1 Nov=16
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About

Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.