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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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....


LMAO
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1261. 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....
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Weather456:
What is really funny is that same tune persons started out with on June 1 are very much different now. lol as hs2006 said look for those same persons rooting for 000 to be hear and ready when 99L forms. Life is funny.


Seems very ironic, although when I ask what conditions are needed for a zero season from those posters they do not reply, would be nice to hear how it can happen.
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Quoting Patrap:
.."Welcome to The Wunderground Main Blog,.. Caller"

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




Looks like Larry King
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Awesome pics Cyber!
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1256. SQUAWK
Quoting NRAamy:
SQUAWK.....I'd take a second spin at being the afternoon moderator, but I think I might be pushing my luck....


Nah, they would love it. Nothing like your sense of humor to lighten this place up!!!
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
1255. IKE
Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
1 aug 4 sept 1 oct total 6


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.
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
REMINDER: Space Shuttle Endeavour to land Friday @ 10:52 AM EDT.

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1253. Patrap
.."Welcome to The Wunderground Main Blog,.. Caller"

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


Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 415 Comments: 125628
Quoting TropicalNonsense:
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.


wow, i wonder what Dr. Masters thinks of Haarp's ability to modify weather? like it or not the weather IS being modified as well as notably the Jet stream over North America. most "informed" people are just afraid to talk about these kinda issues or maybe no one cares? i would be willing to bet the record breaking non amount of tropical activity during the 2009 season so far has been directly related to weather modification.

we are almost into august and not even having atleast a tropical wave let alone an actual A
storm is virtually unheard of. how long before people begin asking the appropiate questions?

IS WEATHER MODIFICATION IS ALREADY TAKING PLACE?

scientifically speaking certainly the answer is yes.


It has not been record breaking so far, and can I get some of whatever your taking?
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
1251. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
1 aug 4 sept 1 oct total 6
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 165 Comments: 52267
1250. NRAamy
SQUAWK.....I'd take a second spin at being the afternoon moderator, but I think I might be pushing my luck....
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
What is really funny is that same tune persons started out with on June 1 are very much different now. lol as hs2006 said look for those same persons rooting for 000 to be hear and ready when 99L forms. Life is funny.
Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
We still have three active months left of 2009 hurricane season (August, Setember, November, and even with GOM temps so hot maybe December). I remeber multiple years that had multiple storms at one week period. Just because things are quiet now it can change very quickly. Just because the models say nothing will form doesnt mean nothing can. Models are not reality, they are used to get a idea. But I work with models all the time and the screw up all the time. The earth changes so quick that most models have a hard time keeping up. Models are never going to be perfect, you cant model real life not possible. Models will get better, but never perfect. I bet you mother nature will surprise us. I dont think there every been a hurricane season without any tropical storm activity, i might be wrong.

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2 August-4 September-1 October
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Quoting Weather456:
Good Afternoon all,

Record Low Global Activity


Nice Blog on this Weather456!

One comment I would make though is that through July 31 of a normal year, the Northern Hemishphere's average accumulated ACE is only 131.7 of the yearly total of 563...or about 23.4% of the total.


Now the whole year of 2008 having a NH ACE of 431 or 77% of normal together with a slow start to this year makes more of a story...

It'll be interesting to see if this season starts turning the corner.
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1244. SQUAWK
If any one on here likes horses and would have a way or know someone that might be interested is helping to save about 180 of them from being euthanized, go to Code's blog for more info.

LINK
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1242. Patrap
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 415 Comments: 125628
1241. IKE
Quoting WeatherStudent:


what does that mean, ikster? a south florida threater, perhaps, my friend?


I'm hoping it continues into September and October bringing an early fall and an end to the tropical season here.

May be trouble for you....
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
1240. Patrap
Yup..HAARP and District 9 is the Seasons woes origin.

Snicker,grunt..giggle
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 415 Comments: 125628
re: 1230 Squawk

Those are the best probabilities that we have seen in a while.. interesting!
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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.


wow, i wonder what Dr. Masters thinks of Haarp's ability to modify weather? like it or not the weather IS being modified as well as notably the Jet stream over North America. most "informed" people are just afraid to talk about these kinda issues or maybe no one cares? i would be willing to bet the record breaking non amount of tropical activity during the 2009 season so far has been directly related to weather modification.

we are almost into august and not even having atleast a tropical wave let alone an actual A
storm is virtually unheard of. how long before people begin asking the appropiate questions?

IS WEATHER MODIFICATION ALREADY TAKING PLACE?

scientifically speaking certainly the answer is yes.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
1236. Patrap
"No,..I havent contacted FEMA.

Can they re-locate us?"

Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 415 Comments: 125628
3 for August, that's as far as I can go.
Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
1234. IKE
Quoting CycloneOz:

0,0,0


lol.
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
1233. IKE
Aug.>>>2
Sept.>>5
Oct.>>>2
Nov>>>>1....

Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858

0,0,0
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1231. IKE
Looks like the latest GFS is jumping back on troughs in the east in a week...

Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
1230. SQUAWK
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
4 for August, 6 for September, 1 for October
4 august, 5 september and 1 october
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2 for Aug 3 Sept 1 for Oct.
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Quoting extreme236:
Interesting convection off the Southeast coast.


Yea, I was noticing it. Ir does not appear to be frontal per QuikSCAT but a surface trough being ehance downstream an upper trough over the EUSA.
Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
I worked Eugene Island 133 for a year.

So glad I got out of that business....
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Quoting Patrap:
Education,not Legislation is the Key to teaching responsible Hurricane Preparedness.

Teaching it in Public school is a great way to show people from a early age what to do,and expect in a Evacuation scenario.



Right!! that would be a good thought to incorporate a hurricane prepardness coarse in our community schools
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1222. SQUAWK
Hello Amy!!!!! Always good to see you! Was kinda hoping you would be the designated mod in here today.
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I pick 4 for August, and 6 for September, plus 1 in October and 1 in November.

This El Nino is about the strength of the one in 2004, and is weaker than 2006 at this point.
Shear is average to even slightly below in some areas. SST's are WAY HIGH in the GOMEX. There's some black in the GOMEX on the WU page.
I think the majority of systems will form close to home.

11-13 named,
5-7 Hurricanes,
2-4 Majors.
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1220. Patrap
Hurricane Buoy

Eugene Island Oil Spill



(7/27/09)--(Incorporates OIL-PIPELINE/SPILL-SHUTDOWN; adds new Tahiti flow) HOUSTON,- The Eugene Island pipeline has been shut down pending repairs after a leak spilled 1,400 barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico off Louisiana, Shell Pipeline Co (RDSa.L) said Monday.
"At this time, we cannot forecast when restart will occur," Shell said in a news release.
The 20-inch-diameter line, which carries Eugene Island grade crude EUI- to shore, lost pressure and released crude Saturday afternoon about 60 miles (96.5 km) southwest of Houma, Louisiana, in waters about 60 feet deep, Shell said.
Cleanup began Monday and the cause was under investigation. Mild weather, calm seas and distance from shore mean the oil likely will not reach land, Shell said. A Shell spokesman said the company was sending a dive vessel to inspect the section of pipeline involved and the goal was to develop a repair and restart plan later in the week. The leak occurred in an area defined by the U.S. Minerals Management Service as Eugene Island Block 281, the Coast Guard said.The Eugene Island line recently began carrying crude from Chevron Corp's (CVX.N) Tahiti platform farther offshore, increasing the volumes flowing through the line. (Reporting by Bruce Nichols; Editing by Christian Wiessner)--(reuters.com)

Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 415 Comments: 125628
Interesting convection off the Southeast coast.
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Quoting SQUAWK:
re: 1176. SomeRandomTexan 11:50 AM EDT on July 28, 2009

No flames, I just don't agree. I think the law should state: If a mandatory evacuation is ordered and you decide to ignore it and stay, do not call for help because no one will come. And after the storm, don't expect us to rush out to cloth, feed, medically treat, evacuate, shelter you....

...or search for you and your family's bodies.

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Quoting Drakoen:

2
0
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1216. NRAamy
SQUAWK!

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1215. Patrap
Education,not Legislation is the Key to teaching responsible Hurricane Preparedness.

Teaching it in Public school is a great way to show people from a early age what to do,and expect in a Evacuation scenario.

Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 415 Comments: 125628
1214. Drakoen
Quoting 7544:
i think im going to start to take bets on how many trop stroms we will have in the month in augest everyone gets to pick one number that cant be repeated from 0 to 7 stay tuned

2
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re: 1206 Squawk

thank for chiming in with the response!

I highly doubt this will be used in the up comming season. There is too much red tape and issues for the local entities to face. they wouldn't be able to handle the amount of people they are arresting.

Also, when you look at a map of Texas mandatory evac can go 100 miles north of the coast line meaning it would be almost be impossible
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About JeffMasters

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