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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thanks Keep!
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APOD
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i am afraid stopping hurricanes would end up like introducing africanized bees to increase honey production or fire ants or carp to eat water weeds. its not good to mess with mother nature. And hurricanes serve a purpose! they recharge aquifers, flush wetlands, and break drought. I would love a nice minimal hurricane right now. and like it or not, they are good for the economy.
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Hurricane Ivan rocked Pensacola, FL.
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Quoting leftovers:
how about this idea take the muck for example out the louisiana delta cool it off strain it then spread it evenly over the water in front of a massive storm. not only will it create a oily slick but the weeds and debris should cool the surface of the water


Here's a better idea: restore all the coastal wetlands lost from Louisiana in the past 50 years. That would go a long way towards mitigating hurricane damage.
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1107. Skyepony (Mod)
Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
i know sky and it also means we will have a milder and wetter with less snow for the winter hopefully but now they say el nino may begin weakening in sept and be gone by the start of winter so who knows anymore


I'm thinking we may not see it level off til sept, don't expect it to weaken til atleast mid winter (Jan), may last longer. Not expecting the greatest of maple syrup harvests this year.
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16 N 26 W a 1010 mb surface low?? Strongest wave to date. GFS only shows it at 1012 mbs and weakens it by 7/30?? Something to watch.......can it make the trip past 40W ??
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1105. surfmom
Quoting leftovers:
how about this idea take the muck for example out the louisiana delta cool it off strain it then spread it evenly over the water in front of a massive storm. not only will it create a oily slick but the weeds and debris should cool the surface of the water


there ya go & then make these clowns swim in the stuff -LOL- things would be much better if they put surfers in charge PuraVida
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Quoting sammywammybamy:
I am Happy That Florida Hasn't got Hit by a Hurricane in 2005... But I miss the adventure..... I mean I would Maybe wishcast a 40mph tropical storm.. But a cat 1+ .. Heck no.. Not going through that again

What?We go hit by 3 hurricanes in 2005.
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Umm but do you ever think the El Nino is also a reason why there are no named storms in the Atltantic so far.
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1098. surfmom
re: GATES -as I've said before -- we should concentrate on fixing our Human Nature b/4 we start messing w/Mother Nature. Or perhaps concentrate on fixing the long list of mistakes and oops created by the Army Corp of Engineers, or perhaps fix existing infrastructures on the verge of collapse - levee's in NOLA & Lake Okeechobee. They messed and altered the Mississippi and now we have serious consequences (just one example).. now they look to the Gulf?????

Mr. Gates -- keep you hands on YOUR MOTHER BOARD and leave the Gulf of Mexico alone. You are cruisin' for a bruisin' from the Big Mother herself.
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Ike,
You can post about the weather at anytime I got no qualms with that :)
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Good Morning to all, Well it's very muggy and yucky here in Lower Alabama. It looks like rain agian. I for one glad to see it after the month or two we had.Temps where over a 100. Well it looks like the tropics are sleeping. I hope it don't turn out to be a sleeping giant.

Sheri
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1095. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
Quoting Skyepony:
Keeper~ El Nino causes the N 1/2 of N US & up into Canada to be abnormally cool. It's pretty much expected. Globally June was near the hottest we've seen. Ya'll enjoy the cool weather. I hit 85º by 10am this morning.

i know sky and it also means we will have a milder and wetter with less snow for the winter hopefully but now they say el nino may begin weakening in sept and be gone by the start of winter so who knows anymore
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 174 Comments: 54630
Quoting WPBHurricane05:
I wonder if we are entering the cycle of less active hurricane seasons like we saw in the 80's and early 90's.

I don't know because Max Mayfield said for the next 20 years since 2003, it will be above avergae hurricane seasons.
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looks like the el nino this summer might be like it was in 2004. the waters are cooling off the coast of south america.
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Question, aren't hurricanes engines that basically transfer heat and if there are no transfers(of heat) then wouldn't that mean there is much more heat available for the next storm or the next hurricane season?
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1090. Skyepony (Mod)
Keeper~ El Nino causes the N 1/2 of N US & up into Canada to be abnormally cool. It's pretty much expected. Globally June was near the hottest we've seen. Ya'll enjoy the cool weather. I hit 85º by 10am this morning.

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Here's an idea for Bill Gates to help fight storms. Simply tie together all the unsold Windows Vista DVD's and use them to reflect the Sun's heat back into space.

Well, there's not much else you can do with them. :)
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1086. 19N81W
lots of waves but they die the second they get out over the ocean....hard to believe we may not have a named storm this year...and if we do it will be a stretch...NHC needs to keep funding:)..well we had a rain shower last night yeah! but same old story today very hot/dry/haze no build ups anywhere...almost all of our rain is coming at night.
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1085. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
just north of you mak and we are seeing the same thing very abnormal by now should be like a semi arid desert up here from the heat
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 174 Comments: 54630
1084. Makoto1
All this heat talk makes me amazed for only one reason: We're well on track for our coolest July ever here in Dayton, Ohio. We'd have to average 74.7 degrees or less over the next 4 days to break the record, and it'll be close... But the forecast does have us breaking the record.
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1083. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
global warming naw more likly global cooling
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 174 Comments: 54630
Quoting VAbeachhurricanes:


global warming


this storm has nuting too do with global warming
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Quoting Tazmanian:
so what do you guys think about that strong cold front for this time of year there even a ch of snow at higher mts like WY CO and MT


global warming
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1080. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
Quoting Orcasystems:


If the strike is still on.. be thankful your having a cold summer.. your normal 30-35 temperatures..and all the garbage would be bad...
they have reach a deal with local 416 now they are working on local 70 could be over by the end of the week as for garbage we are spending 3000.00 a week to have dumpters dump twice a week 4 dumpsters on mon 4 on thur no recycling being pickup all being dump in regular garbage till after strike ends it would be a real mess if we had'nt gone private with the pickup 30 to 35 orca we are lucky to make it to the mid 70's been no heat or humity this year although weater office stated that the last 3 weeks of august should see a more normal summer pattern setting up but i will believe it when i see it more storms again for today tommorrow and again on fri sat sun never seen so much rain normally by now we would have already have 15 to 20 hot humid days by now so far this year i think we have seen like 6 or 7 thats it
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 174 Comments: 54630
Quoting Orcasystems:


Our normal temperatures are from 5 to 25 year round. So far this year we have done from -5 to 40.


im assuming thats celsius right?? if thats fahrenheit then WOW thats way too cold for me. ive always wanted to see snow but i cant stand the temps. (we actually did get some wet heavy snow on first day of march.. really strong cold front)

EDIT: okay it was celsius lol.

we've been from about 23 fahrenheit to about 110 fahrenheit during the heat wave in june.
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Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:

strange days indeed taz yesterday i was out on the property checking the trees and believe it or not 3 out of 16 trees are already starting to show signs of leaves changing from green to yellow near tree tops one tree in particular is actually droppin some leaves which i thougt was strange had my landscapers take a look at it cause i though maybe it was dying but to my surprize they gave it a clean bill of health and said its from the cool wet summer that we have been having thats the likly cause normally the trees dont start till late sept this is late july almost 2 months early nothing is going to surprize me anymore this year


If the strike is still on.. be thankful your having a cold summer.. your normal 30-35 temperatures..and all the garbage would be bad...
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1077. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
Quoting Tazmanian:
so what do you guys think about that strong cold front for this time of year there even a ch of snow at higher mts like WY CO and MT

strange days indeed taz yesterday i was out on the property checking the trees and believe it or not 3 out of 16 trees are already starting to show signs of leaves changing from green to yellow near tree tops one tree in particular is actually droppin some leaves which i thougt was strange had my landscapers take a look at it cause i though maybe it was dying but to my surprize they gave it a clean bill of health and said its from the cool wet summer that we have been having thats the likly cause normally the trees dont start till late sept this is late july almost 2 months early nothing is going to surprize me anymore this year
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 174 Comments: 54630
Easterly shear is incredibly high over the west pacific's MDR. Despite the positive MJO pulse over there, it is being canceled out by anomalously high easterly shear. Although easterly shear is not as damaging as westerly shear for northern hemisphere tropical cyclones, it is blowing well over 30kts over the region. The streaming patterns in the clouds are quite evident. W456, I think the high shear is what suppressing tropical cyclogenesis in the WPAC at the moment






Member Since: July 19, 2008 Posts: 43 Comments: 4051
I wonder if we are entering the cycle of less active hurricane seasons like we saw in the 80's and early 90's.
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Quoting HurricaneSwirl:


LOL... sorry sucker, but i dont want that heat back. its NEVER been as low as 77 before just about this whole summer. and i like it :)


Our normal temperatures are from 5 to 25 year round. So far this year we have done from -5 to 40.

Extremes since 01 January 2009

Maximum Temperature
40.2 C at 16:31 on 03 June

Minimum Temperature
-5.1 C at 02:47 on 10 March
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Quoting futuremet:
Albeit I l like tracking tropical cyclones, having 0,0,0 would be cool, since it would go on the record books as "The year without a tropical storm"


and less than five years after

"The year with many, many, many, many tropical storms(and dont forget to mention hurricanes, major hurricanes, and cat 5's too)
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Quoting Weather456:
Why has the Pacific and Atlantic basins been so inactive in 2009?

Tropical Update
Record Low Global Activity


Interesting data......Does this mean that Gray and others are going to bring their numbers down come mid-August just because of the lack of viable "pre-existing" disturbances in June/July or is it still too early to tell?
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Quoting Orcasystems:
If any of you Southern types want your hot weather back.. feel free to come up to Victoria.. pick it up..and take it home with you.. its been stupid hot here for two weeks..and it is suppose to get worse this week. We got over 100 again..and they are calling for it to do it again..and again :(


LOL... sorry sucker, but i dont want that heat back. its NEVER been as low as 77 before just about this whole summer. and i like it :)
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so what do you guys think about that strong cold front for this time of year there even a ch of snow at higher mts like WY CO and MT
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Present Satellite picture ... Cape Verde to Gulf of Guinea
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African Waves

Member Since: July 19, 2008 Posts: 43 Comments: 4051
Quoting potteryX:
Orca. OOOppps. Took the pics, and will send them off on the w/e. As the camera is in Trini, and I am here.
All is well.


Looking forward to seeing them.
I have never seen any pictures (None Tourist) from that neck of the woods.. it will be interesting to see.
SWMBO is also patiently waiting to see them.
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Albeit I l like tracking tropical cyclones, having 0,0,0 would be cool, since it would go on the record books as "The year without a tropical storm"
Member Since: July 19, 2008 Posts: 43 Comments: 4051
Why has the Pacific and Atlantic basins been so inactive in 2009?

Tropical Update
Record Low Global Activity
Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
Orca. OOOppps. Took the pics, and will send them off on the w/e. As the camera is in Trini, and I am here.
All is well.
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Quoting potteryX:
Good Heavens. This blog is filled with weather information about people's locations.
Where will it go next? Should'nt be allowed.


Morning X man... where are the pictures that were promised????
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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.

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