Bill Gates takes on hurricanes

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

Share this Blog
7
+

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

Reader Comments

Comments will take a few seconds to appear.

Post Your Comments

Please sign in to post comments.

or Join

Not only will you be able to leave comments on this blog, but you'll also have the ability to upload and share your photos in our Wunder Photos section.

Display: 0, 50, 100, 200 Sort: Newest First - Order Posted

Viewing: 1213 - 1163

Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28 | 29 | 30 | 31 | 32 | 33 | 34 | 35 | 36 | 37 | 38 | 39Blog Index

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
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
No problem thought I would share them, they explain a lot about current conditions in the GOM. We use them at my work. There from the Terra satellite.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Good Afternoon all,

Record Low Global Activity
Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
1209. Drakoen
Those are nice graphics 1204
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 29886
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 1 to 7 stay tuned


4
1207. SQUAWK
.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
1206. SQUAWK
Quoting SomeRandomTexan:


That is definitely a good thought! Do you by chance live here in Texas?

Nope, Virginia.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
1205. 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
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Florida Current Cooler than the Gulf of Mexico Waters. Loop Current Absent.

We have observed some noteworthy oceanographic conditions in the northern Caribbean Sea, eastern Gulf of Mexico and Florida Keys area during July 15-17, 2009 that are continuing. We are providing two color enhanced satellite images derived from the infrared for sea surface temperature (colorized with yellow and red with the red being the warmest) and ocean color (purple, blue, green and brown). The infrared images were derived from both NOAA and NASA polar orbiting satellites and the ocean color from the NASA Aqua satellite (MODIS sensor). Look the images on pages 2 and 3. There is a relatively large Loop Current eddy in the Gulf of Mexico that appears with an estimated sea surface temperature (SST) 87°F. This eddy has a distinctive deep blue-purple color in the ocean color imagery. Note that the water in the Yucatan Strait (between the Yucatan Peninsula and Cuba) and the Straits of Florida is two degrees cooler (85°F) than the water in the Gulf of Mexico. This is an unusual event. Due to the newly formed Loop Current eddy, the Loop Current has a minimum "Loop" or has no Loop in that the Yucatan Current flows directly into the Florida Keys to form the Florida Current without significant intrusion into the Gulf of Mexico. This direct flow is obvious in both the infrared (SST) and ocean color data. Also note the many interesting features in the ocean color imagery surrounding Cuba which once again demonstrates the importance of ocean color satellite imagery and that infrared satellite imagery is useful in the summer months in this region.



roffs





roffs

Member Since: Posts: Comments:
weather modification sucks...

by looking at the sat images it looks like the tropics have been completely erased this year.

Member Since: Posts: Comments:
1202. IKE
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
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 or shelter you.


Yea I agree
1199. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
Quoting NRAamy:
limericks on the main blog...ok, it's a dead season for sure now....
wait till they see my numbers come out in aug on my blog that should cause a storm of chatter
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 169 Comments: 53296
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 or shelter you.


That is definitely a good thought! Do you by chance live here in Texas?

I listened to a local judge speak about this law and he said that this would not be a blanket thing. He said there would have to be a judges release on each arrest, from what I understand.

He deemed it a good way to get people out of danger that are facing certain death in the brunt of the storm. ie. Crystal Beach...

I am not necessarily saying that I agree with the law so don't take what I am saying wrong.. I think it has its good points and bad.. I am against big government and this is big government. I do like the ammendment they added to it though.

The way I percieved the information is that it would be also be used on certain high risk people.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Funkadelic:

You my friend,,, have talent.
Goodnight all. Stay safe, Play safe.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
1196. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
Quoting Drakoen:


Definitely. Pressure Gradient.
rip the dust right off the desert floor right out over the ocean strong ones can stretch right to the carb.
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 169 Comments: 53296
1195. NRAamy
limericks on the main blog...ok, it's a dead season for sure now....
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
1194. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
Quoting Skyepony:
I wanted to add Ryan's latest update that is above the graph Keeper posted..

May - June - July Northern Hemisphere Tropical Cyclone Activity: With 5-days left in the month of July, the three month ACE sum for 2009 is in the lead for the lowest since at least 1970.

94W has lost it's floater worthy statues. This year may just win.
heres the link to he's upfate

Link
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 169 Comments: 53296
Our tropical neighborhood
Is inactive, but isn't that good?
An El Nino's in place
While Hunter's wait at their base
For a storm to form if it could

But tropical weather is fickle
This year, we've seen not a trickle
Unless things change soon
This blog may be doomed
And not worth a buffalo nickle.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
1192. Drakoen
Quoting IKE:


Are dust lows enhanced by strong high pressure in the Atlantic?


Definitely. Pressure Gradient.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 29886
1191. IKE
Quoting Drakoen:


There is a good chance another Dust Low advects off the coast when the current one off Africa does halting any development. We'll have to see.


Are dust lows enhanced by strong high pressure in the Atlantic?
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
This blog is full of meteorology players
who bandy about SST's and Saharan dust layers.
But, when those clouds do form
into violent tropical storms
We'll all see our hair turning grayer.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting leftovers:
200mph gust plus could rip off hurricane shutters like toothpicks yes think it is a good idea to mess with nature alittle
Have you stopped to think what cooling the waters could do to the marine life, and in turn what effect that could have on the entire population as well as the economy. I don't normally chime in but you can't alter an ecosystem in those kind of ways and expect everything to remain status quo. Messing with nature is ignorant and will not turn out well.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
1188. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
Quoting Patrap:
Id love to see ZERO storms in 09,just to see the spazzing Blogger's come completely apart,..LOL
couple of more weeks be nothing but gibberish and commitals
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 169 Comments: 53296
1187. Drakoen
Quoting IKE:


For some reason the GFS isn't getting anything past 40 west...has the high in the Atlantic go from 1026 mb's to 1030 mb's in 84 hours.


There is a good chance another Dust Low advects off the coast when the current one off Africa does halting any development. We'll have to see.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 29886
Re:1184


You go Boy!
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
1185. IKE
Quoting Drakoen:


Possibly. If this one can't get going don't expect much over the next 2 weeks.


For some reason the GFS isn't getting anything past 40 west...has the high in the Atlantic go from 1026 mb's to 1030 mb's in 84 hours.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
1183. Skyepony (Mod)
I wanted to add Ryan's latest update that is above the graph Keeper posted..

May - June - July Northern Hemisphere Tropical Cyclone Activity: With 5-days left in the month of July, the three month ACE sum for 2009 is in the lead for the lowest since at least 1970.

94W has lost it's floater worthy statues. This year may just win.
Member Since: August 10, 2005 Posts: 161 Comments: 37327
1182. 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 or shelter you.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
There once was big hurricane.
But not this season, for shame!
When one finally comes, were all gonna run.
And it'll drive this blog insane...
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting claimsadjuster:


I was young when Fred hit but I can still remember the trees down,no power,and homes that looked like a bomb had went off in them. It was a scary site for someone at a young age.


I remember Fredric, I was a kid. We just moved to Saraland,Al from Tampa,FL I remember my dad raising he&& about standing in line for 7hrs and paying 25 dollars for a bag of ice. It was really bad back then, mom and dad tried to make it nice for us kids we got to camp in the back yard in tents. Back then we thought it was cool.

Sheri
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
1179. Drakoen
Quoting extreme236:


Hmm maybe this could be the one....


Possibly. If this one can't get going don't expect much over the next 2 weeks.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 29886
Quoting Stormchaser2007:
SAL looks to be breaking just in time for the strong wave.



Hmm maybe this could be the one....
Member Since: August 2, 2007 Posts: 19 Comments: 19234
1177. ozprof
Quoting sporteguy03:


Do you get a chance to mow the yard with all the rain?


That sounds like my ex-wife speaking! :-)
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
What is sad is the beast that we call hurricanes have existed since the earth has been here.

Over time we as humans have built up the areas that are effected most by these storms resulting in more catastrophe. I am not saying we are at fault for building here since I live only a few miles from the coast but I do believe that part of the responsibility of living here is being prepared and knowing what could and will happen.

There should NEVER be a human life taken from one of these storms since we know in advance they are coming and even if you don't have the funds to evacuate yourself, your local government will get you out for free... Don't put our first responders in danger by making them rescue you.

Also here in Texas with the new law that we have been discussing involving mandatory evacuations and the arrest thereof people who don't follow also has an ammendment which allows local agencies to charge for any rescue operation that is undergone. The fee will go directly to the rescuee. Each rescue attemp cost big money to local government and this is their way of justifying the home goers stupidity.

just my opinion on it.. I will prob get flamed...
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
1175. IKE
Quoting sporteguy03:


Do you get a chance to mow the yard with all the rain?


Yup.

Rain and 74 degrees outside. Thunderstorm.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
SAL looks to be breaking just in time for the strong wave.

Member Since: June 9, 2007 Posts: 4 Comments: 15776
1173. K8eCane
hurricane hurricane
where art thou?
We like to track you
And put it on YouTube
Then hope that you throw in the towel
Member Since: April 26, 2006 Posts: 5 Comments: 3075
Quoting IKE:


I've had over 10 inches of rain in July. Mushrooms are sprouting up in my yard....more rain to come...


Do you get a chance to mow the yard with all the rain?
Member Since: July 7, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 5152
Quoting IKE:


I've had over 10 inches of rain in July. Mushrooms are sprouting up in my yard....more rain to come...


Wow. We haven't had much rain up here till last week. Now it's been raining every other day.
Member Since: August 2, 2007 Posts: 19 Comments: 19234
Nice Story about a dog being found 10 months after Ike hit. Nice to hear some stories like this.

Link


Port Orange is in recovery still after their tornado on Sunday. Nice to see Red Cross helping out.
Member Since: July 7, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 5152
1168. IKE
Quoting extreme236:


I had outdoor plans up here in Ohio tomorrow. Supposed to get thunderstorms practically all day though. Gonna be unusually cool too.


I've had over 10 inches of rain in July. Mushrooms are sprouting up in my yard....more rain to come...
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting SQUAWK:
OK folks, I want you all to repeat this out loud 5 times: "THIS IS A BLOG, IT IS NOT REAL AND THERE IS NO ONE HERE SMART ENOUGH TO PISS ME OFF!!!"


if only.........
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
1166. IKE
Quoting Patrap:
Id love to see ZERO storms in 09,just to see the spazzing Blogger's come completely apart,..LOL


Amen.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting IKE:
More rain...



I had outdoor plans up here in Ohio tomorrow. Supposed to get thunderstorms practically all day though. Gonna be unusually cool too.
Member Since: August 2, 2007 Posts: 19 Comments: 19234
1164. Patrap
Id love to see ZERO storms in 09,just to see the spazzing Blogger's come completely apart,..LOL
Member Since: Posts: Comments:

Viewing: 1213 - 1163

Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28 | 29 | 30 | 31 | 32 | 33 | 34 | 35 | 36 | 37 | 38 | 39Blog Index

Top of Page

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.

Local Weather

Overcast
71 °F
Overcast