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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1013. MahFL
My thoughts are the same about the formation later of a strong hurricane due to all the accumulated energy not being used up. Not necessarliy a land falling cane, just a big/strong one.
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Quoting MahFL:
456, it seems just a bit less than normal to me.
One reason is the low latitude of the jetstream, pushing fronts and troughs deep into the caribean/atlantic. Also the tradewinds have not been overly strong yet.


It is,

The Eastern Pacific is also well below the normal ACE through July 31 with the Atlantic having the smallest difference due to the fact that thus far the basin is normally quiet.
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1011. MahFL
456, it seems just a bit less than normal to me.
One reason is the low latitude of the jetstream, pushing fronts and troughs deep into the caribean/atlantic. Also the tradewinds have not been overly strong yet.
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Good Morning;

Why has the Pacific and Atlantic basins been so inactive in 2009?

Tropical Update
Record Low Global Activity
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Leftovers, there is a way, that has been used in the 70's. it is called 'seeding' i.e. dumping specific chemicals directly into the hurricane.

Unfortunately, it allegedly also causes bad drought in following years, for some reason I do not know, one of the weather experts would have to tell you.

My understanding is that it was objected to by certain Governments whose countries suffered in subsequent years.

Yes, interfering with nature can cause worse to come.

What do you think hurricanes etc are, but the Earth way of cleansing?

Whether we like ot or not, it needs to regulate itself back to balance.
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1008. MahFL
Remember when forest fires were put out all the time in Yellowstone....after a few decades they had a massive fire, as all the unburnt brush had built up into a deadly layer of tinder dry fuel. Now they allow fires to burn unless near property.
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1007. MahFL
leftovers....
How do you get a bed into a trench in a hurricane. Trenches in FL also tend to fill with water.... Plenty of hurricanes have hit S FL. Also you command of the English language seems to be staggeringly poor.
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assuming Gates idea works, wouldnt we simply be warming the entire water column up if we dont allow the warm water to cool at the surface via evaporation? Say 50 years from now with no major hurricanes pass ... Awesome .. then we notice that the entire water column has warmed 10C on average? Just a random number but the point is valid. Oh and then as the sea temps rise im sure it will be global warming, though technically it would be at that point given we DID raise SSTS...Hurricanes in the winter? it's plausible if the water is warm many many meters.
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1005. rocqman
I agree with the last sentence of your Blog. Knowing how unsuccessful Man's attempts to modify nature generally; introducing a new predator to control vermin, for instance, which then devastates the population of some other native animal. Without knowing the full consequences of you actions, how can you attempt to carry out these proposed modifications?
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Uhmmm playing with the nature is dangerous,gulf temp of watter is very very important regulated rains in summer through East Coast, and the current of gulf is the key of eco system in west Europe and north Atlantic. ¿what do you think about that?
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Quoting leftovers:
good morning i have already blogged mentioning we should research ways to reduce hurricanes intensity. for example if we could of reduced andrews cat 4-5 winds down to a 3 i think that would of been great. if we have a andrew like intensity hit central miami it would of terrible. these winds you would be hiding in a trench with a bed on top of you for cover. you would not thinking about filming for utube. can you imagine 30wind mile of swath of condos being blown clean nothing left! hurricane shutters blown off there hinges. anyway ive been blogging this idea on this blog and others generally ive had negative reaction. "messing around with the environment like this could be dangerous" they say. when we do get "the one" that hits s fl or tampa people might change their minds.


I think ya might want to lower those winds alot lower than a 3. But hey like you say, I genarally get a negative reaction when I say a cat 3's winds are devestating. But I'm no expert. I just saw what they could do. And that cat 2 gave us a run for our money last year as well. Even Humberto put trees through houses. It would be great if these things could be weakened. Maybe some day they will be who knows. I don't think we are any where near it now tho.
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love watching these weak waves at this time in the morning one of the only reasons to be happy waking up this early. the 47w looks like its trying to stay alive. might pulse up the next couple days as it moves over warmer water.
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good morning i have already blogged mentioning we should research ways to reduce hurricanes intensity. for example if we could of reduced andrews cat 4-5 winds down to a 3 i think that would of been great. if we have a andrew like intensity hit central miami it would of terrible. these winds you would be hiding in a trench with a bed on top of you for cover. you would not thinking about filming for utube. can you imagine 30wind mile of swath of condos being blown clean nothing left! hurricane shutters blown off there hinges. anyway ive been blogging this idea on this blog and others generally ive had negative reaction. "messing around with the environment like this could be dangerous" they say. when we do get "the one" that hits s fl or tampa people might change their minds.
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would something like that affect the Gulf Stream?
If it disrupted the flow of warm water to Europe we might end up in an economic war with Europe.

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current setup might hook verde type but any home brew storms could get mighty ugly. especially in that near shear free pocket.
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Quoting reasonmclucus:
The instability this process could cause might even spawn hurricanes or produce some new type of storm. The mixing of warm air and cold air is responsible for producing highly destructive tornadoes from storms that sometimes develop explosively. Most of those who visit this blog probably have seen time lapse videos of thunderstorms developing. I've occasionally seen such development without time lapse photography and you don't want to be in the path of such storms.

Wasn't there a hurricane that developed after it moved into cooler water a couple of years ago?




Where do you get such an X-rated video or radar or Satelite.I would like to have that heads up so I could at least shelter the cildren,not to mention the crops that may suffer damage and be un harvestable.My corn should be knee high by the 4th of july-wait a minute-August,Ok By August,I would trust that albiet(yep SW)will be done with dust that might give way to a %%%%%%%%?We'll see.
Not the best but never said I was Mary Poppins
Quoting adjusterx:

Can I get a I concur-Whoo Whoo.
Sorry to be messing with ya I just been on here awhile.
Your a good kid.


You too, it's quite alright my friend.
The instability this process could cause might even spawn hurricanes or produce some new type of storm. The mixing of warm air and cold air is responsible for producing highly destructive tornadoes from storms that sometimes develop explosively. Most of those who visit this blog probably have seen time lapse videos of thunderstorms developing. I've occasionally seen such development without time lapse photography and you don't want to be in the path of such storms.

Wasn't there a hurricane that developed after it moved into cooler water a couple of years ago?



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Quoting WeatherStudent:


LMAO

Can I get a I concur-Whoo Whoo.
Sorry to be messing with ya I just been on here awhile.
Your a good kid.
Quoting adjusterx:

You forgot the ster


LMAO
Quoting WeatherStudent:


Heck no, why would I? I was referring to Bill Gates, bud.

You forgot the ster
Quoting adjusterx:

I really don't know what your getting at.Are you talking about me?


Heck no, why would I? I was referring to Bill Gates, bud.
Quoting adjusterx:

I really don't know what your getting at.Are you talking about me?

Sorry WS-I got it
Quoting WeatherStudent:


Believe me, he's not going to be getting very far at all with this idea of his. It'll clearly die off before it has a legit opportunity to begin, :). What's next for that utter idiot, changing the laws of physics, perhaps?

I really don't know what your getting at.Are you talking about me?
Quoting adjusterx:

Sarcasm duly noted send contributions here.
http://www.wunderground.com/blog/cyclonebuster/show.html
Have a nice day.


Believe me, he's not going to be getting very far at all with this idea of his. It'll clearly die off before it has a legit opportunity to begin, :). What's next for that utter idiot, changing the laws of physics, perhaps?
yea me too

night everyone
Quoting HurrMichaelOrl:
Wow, I just saw this latest blog. I am totally against trying to alter the natural balance for our selfish human interests. I really hope this idea does not go any further.

Sarcasm duly noted send contributions here.
http://www.wunderground.com/blog/cyclonebuster/show.html
Have a nice day.
Quoting VAbeachhurricanes:


it would never make it that far... as soon as it tried it would be forced southwest around the high and into the gulf.
If that high setup were still in place, it might find the slight weakness and make that turn NW toward Fla or up to NC.
Member Since: August 15, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 2515
Quoting GatorWX:
well everyone, have a pleasant night, gettin pretty late and nothings doin in the tropics.


Nite Gator im out too......nite all!
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 179 Comments: 20448
well everyone, have a pleasant night, gettin pretty late and nothings doin in the tropics.
Member Since: January 1, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 3797
Quoting StSimonsIslandGAGuy:
Actually, TampaSpin, that patter looks like it would hook Cape Verde storms to the north as they went east of Florida and out to sea. Maybe uncomfortably close to the outer banks of NC, but the flow pattern looks like it would steer Atlantic storms out to sea completely.


True as it is now.....but its forecast to move west as it gets stronger....not good setup.
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 179 Comments: 20448
Quoting VAbeachhurricanes:


im guessing he will try and get a "white" like QB, one that can make plays with his legs as well as he can with his arm. BTW what does FLA have after Tebow?
Current backup is redshirt sophomore John Brantley.
Member Since: August 15, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 2515
Quoting BurnedAfterPosting:


Actually it looks like it would take the storms right into Florida or NC

Or if the system is further south into the Gulf


it would never make it that far... as soon as it tried it would be forced southwest around the high and into the gulf.
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Quoting hunkerdown:
Breaking news, the Nittany Lions have knocked the Gators out of #1.


ALL DAY BABY! Party from tuesday to saturday in fron tof the stadium every home game.
Member Since: September 6, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 6697
Quoting StSimonsIslandGAGuy:
Actually, TampaSpin, that patter looks like it would hook Cape Verde storms to the north as they went east of Florida and out to sea. Maybe uncomfortably close to the outer banks of NC, but the flow pattern looks like it would steer Atlantic storms out to sea completely.


Actually it looks like it would take the storms right into Florida or NC

Or if the system is further south into the Gulf
Breaking news, the Nittany Lions have knocked the Gators out of #1.
Member Since: August 15, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 2515
Quoting TampaSpin:
Lets hope this does not stay like this long....WOW!



yeah, but at the same times its causing alot of shear isnt it?
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Quoting hunkerdown:
I think they will keep him till he gets at least one year with "his" team...these kids are not his recruits and he made it clear in the beginning he wanted "his" team.


im guessing he will try and get a "white" like QB, one that can make plays with his legs as well as he can with his arm. BTW what does FLA have after Tebow?
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Quoting VAbeachhurricanes:


yeah i guess, but he was never gonna get fired from there. He definatly will get fired at michigan, those fans are not happy right now.
I think they will keep him till he gets at least one year with "his" team...these kids are not his recruits and he made it clear in the beginning he wanted "his" team.
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Quoting hunkerdown:
money


yeah i guess, but he was never gonna get fired from there. He definatly will get fired at michigan, those fans are not happy right now.
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Quoting VAbeachhurricanes:


yeah why he left ill never know, he was a king at WVU.
money
Member Since: August 15, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 2515
Wow, I just saw this latest blog. I am totally against trying to alter the natural balance for our selfish human interests. I really hope this idea does not go any further.
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Quoting GatorWX:
Rich Rodriguez will get owned this year if he doesn't at the very least go .500! He's playing with fire up there. I bet he wishes he was back at WV!


yeah why he left ill never know, he was a king at WVU.
Member Since: September 6, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 6697
thats a pretty strong high Tampa
Member Since: January 1, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 3797
Rich Rodriguez will get owned this year if he doesn't at the very least go .500! He's playing with fire up there. I bet he wishes he was back at WV!
Member Since: January 1, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 3797
Lets hope this does not stay like this long....WOW!

Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 179 Comments: 20448
Quoting GatorWX:
is that Ohio State? would most certainly go against our friends in Columbus!


yep, OSU the most hated team by me, michigan a close second haha
Member Since: September 6, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 6697
Quoting GatorWX:


Yeah, but you have to have compassion after what happened right?


yeah thats not what i meant, yeah i have compassion i live near it, hit hard around here. Doesnt mean i have to root for them though.


And i love GT baby. Paul johnson gonna make that team the NC competitor in the ACC.
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Quoting StSimonsIslandGAGuy:
Go GA Tech! :)


that was a great game against Georgia!
Member Since: January 1, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 3797

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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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