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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963. GatorWX
5:20 AM GMT on July 28, 2009
Quoting StSimonsIslandGAGuy:
Go GA Tech! :)


that was a great game against Georgia!
Member Since: January 1, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 2955
962. hunkerdown
5:17 AM GMT on July 28, 2009
Quoting VAbeachhurricanes:


cause it started with ten teams, and then penn state joined. So Michigan was a fluke right ;). hahaha VT SUCKS! i hate vt, bunch of thugs.
michigan has looked like a fluke the last couple of years.
Member Since: August 15, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 2515
961. hunkerdown
5:16 AM GMT on July 28, 2009
Quoting VAbeachhurricanes:


really myers is coming back? thought he was done for the year
yup, right now he is slated to be in the pen, especially with Happ, a possible acquisition (Lee or Halliday), and whatever may happen with Pedro.
Member Since: August 15, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 2515
960. GatorWX
5:15 AM GMT on July 28, 2009
anyway, low in BOC does appear to be trying to work its way down, but I doubt it will, and as said, will take time. Hopefully it'll at least produce some rain for drought stricken TX!!
Member Since: January 1, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 2955
959. hunkerdown
5:14 AM GMT on July 28, 2009
Quoting VAbeachhurricanes:


more like nittany lion bait!
gooooo gators !
Member Since: August 15, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 2515
958. TampaSpin
5:14 AM GMT on July 28, 2009
Quoting gordydunnot:
Thanks Tampa I know sw said to look at rgb for low level circ. It was the last frame that caught my attention. It seemed some thunder storms were starting to pop a little around the circulation. Just blob watching.


yep if you look at my blog the RGB is all i use day or nite.....
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 178 Comments: 20439
957. GatorWX
5:11 AM GMT on July 28, 2009
Quoting VAbeachhurricanes:


cause it started with ten teams, and then penn state joined. So Michigan was a fluke right ;). hahaha VT SUCKS! i hate vt, bunch of thugs.


Yeah, but you have to have compassion after what happened right?
Member Since: January 1, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 2955
955. GatorWX
5:10 AM GMT on July 28, 2009
is that Ohio State? would most certainly go against our friends in Columbus!
Member Since: January 1, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 2955
954. gordydunnot
5:10 AM GMT on July 28, 2009
Thanks Tampa I know sw said to look at rgb for low level circ. It was the last frame that caught my attention. It seemed some thunder storms were starting to pop a little around the circulation. Just blob watching.
Member Since: August 18, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 3113
953. VAbeachhurricanes
5:10 AM GMT on July 28, 2009
Quoting GatorWX:
c'mon, big ten is dead! And why is it called the Big Ten again, there are 11 teams????????? why not VT? ACC is @ least somewhat competitive.


cause it started with ten teams, and then penn state joined. So Michigan was a fluke right ;). hahaha VT SUCKS! i hate vt, bunch of thugs.
Member Since: September 6, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 6485
952. GatorWX
5:07 AM GMT on July 28, 2009
c'mon, big ten is dead! And why is it called the Big Ten again, there are 11 teams????????? why not VT? ACC is @ least somewhat competitive.
Member Since: January 1, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 2955
951. VAbeachhurricanes
5:06 AM GMT on July 28, 2009
you gator fans wanna help me root for navy against osu?, my dad went there i would love to see that :)
Member Since: September 6, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 6485
Quoting hunkerdown:
not much different than last year. Myers is due back in mid August. Plus they are "looking" to pick up Halliday or Cliff Lee to bolster the starters.


really myers is coming back? thought he was done for the year
Member Since: September 6, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 6485
The ULL in the BOC is at about 600mb......it could be trying to come to the surface but it will take a couple of days to do so...
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 178 Comments: 20439
Quoting hunkerdown:
not much different than last year. Myers is due back in mid August. Plus they are "looking" to pick up Halliday or Cliff Lee to bolster the starters.


Braves get Tim Hudson back though, we win that one lol
Quoting btwntx08:

read post 934


yea its a ULL

bah you posted the wrong number lol

Either it takes quite a few days to work down to the surface, we will see
Quoting BurnedAfterPosting:


eh phillies pitching will hurt them in the end, of course I am biased being a Braves fan, but we are firing on all cylinders right now

Big 3 game set with the Marlins coming up starting tomorrow.
not much different than last year. Myers is due back in mid August. Plus they are "looking" to pick up Halliday or Cliff Lee to bolster the starters.
Member Since: August 15, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 2515
Quoting BurnedAfterPosting:


eh phillies pitching will hurt them in the end, of course I am biased being a Braves fan, but we are firing on all cylinders right now

Big 3 game set with the Marlins coming up starting tomorrow.


im really hoping we get halliday, yeah the braves are hot, but so are the phils :)
Member Since: September 6, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 6485
Quoting GatorWX:


bravo my friend!


more like nittany lion bait!
Member Since: September 6, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 6485
You are going to be know as burned after the game. After tomorrow night.
Member Since: August 18, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 3113
Quoting hunkerdown:
now your are talking, looking like they could compete for back to back.

...oh, and so could the gators. let the big gator eat !


bravo my friend!
Member Since: January 1, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 2955
Just looked at the pressure in the BOC and pressure is down since the last 24hours by about 1mb....have to see if things keep falling.
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 178 Comments: 20439
Quoting gordydunnot:
Look at rgb in motion at nhc what does anyone see at 95w 22n


Its a ULL
Quoting VAbeachhurricanes:


how bout them nittany lions? gonna eat some gator meat in january :D
only if they pay for it.
Member Since: August 15, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 2515
Quoting hunkerdown:
now your are talking, looking like they could compete for back to back.

...oh, and so could the gators. let the big gator eat !


eh phillies pitching will hurt them in the end, of course I am biased being a Braves fan, but we are firing on all cylinders right now

Big 3 game set with the Marlins coming up starting tomorrow.
Quoting btwntx08:

also when he did that just about everyone in the blog at that time ingored almost immediately

Sorry guy I was just trying to play around.Won't bring him back no more.Peace?
Look at rgb in motion at nhc what does anyone see at 95w 22n
Member Since: August 18, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 3113
haha, how bout them nittany lions, good season last year. JoePa gettin old though! We'll see see what they can do this year.
Member Since: January 1, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 2955
Quoting VAbeachhurricanes:


how bout them phillies?!?!
now your are talking, looking like they could compete for back to back.

...oh, and so could the gators. let the big gator eat !
Member Since: August 15, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 2515
Quoting adjusterx:

I know this and appreciate you taking the time to mess with the peanut gallary.I was joking because he just posted the same stuff we are all looking at and asked-any thoughts

Only takes one push to stop Jason-this aint the movies,you can actually do it!
Quoting adjusterx:

I know this and appreciate you taking the time to mess with the peanut gallary.I was joking because he just posted the same stuff we are all looking at and asked-any thoughts


peanut gallery? lol

never heard of that in a blog lol
Quoting BurnedAfterPosting:


Um jason a few days ago put up a fake NHC map and tried to pass it off as a real one, they are just making you aware of that is all.

I know this and appreciate you taking the time to mess with the peanut gallary.I was joking because he just posted the same stuff we are all looking at and asked-any thoughts
Quoting RainyEyes:
If that wave that is still over Africa did survive...we would be looking at what?...about 11-15 days before US landfall?? Just wondering how long it takes for waves still over Africa to make the trek across to the US.


around 2 weeks
Member Since: September 6, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 6485
I know its a ull but is it trying to make it to the surface in the boc.
Member Since: August 18, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 3113
If that wave that is still over Africa did survive...we would be looking at what?...about 11-15 days before US landfall?? Just wondering how long it takes for waves still over Africa to make the trek across to the US.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting adjusterx:

Now I see.That was a map he put up.Did you read or go back and actuallyt look at it or are you just smelling some new blood?


Um jason a few days ago put up a fake NHC map and tried to pass it off as a real one, they are just making you aware of that is all.
Quoting adjusterx:

Now I see.That was a map he put up.Did you read or go back and actuallyt look at it or are you just smelling some new blood?

Anyway goodbye headhunter
Quoting SevereHurricane:


What you saw last year was the most we could handle...





Didn't know how close New Orleans was getting to a Katrina part 2 during Gustav.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting btwntx08:

ok this one >>>Quoting jasoniscoolman09:


Any insight on this one??ster
any ways he made fun of everyone when he drew up that fake nhc map btw am not treating u and i know ur not a troll so am just reminding u about jasoniscoolman09

Now I see.That was a map he put up.Did you read or go back and actuallyt look at it or are you just smelling some new blood?
Quoting Chicklit:

westernafrika

Big one coming...lets see if it can survive the dry air.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting GatorWX:
what about gators? cocktails? sounds like fun!


how bout them nittany lions? gonna eat some gator meat in january :D
Member Since: September 6, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 6485
So, nothing is going on yet ehhh...tropics are still quiet? The graphs say that September is the peak...so I guess the hurricane season is going to follow that graph this year to a T.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Oh well it should make for a lively dinner table.Its all good unless she wins the sec. Then there might be coal in the old holiday stocking.
Member Since: August 18, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 3113
Quoting btwntx08:

hey if ur new here let start off with don't quote the troll especally which posted a fake yellow circles on the nhc map and on the real map only showed one and that was very bad for him and he shouldn't be here right now so i were u i would ignore jasoniscoolman09

That is not my post???Somebody got access they shouldn't have
can't wait to do it again!
Member Since: January 1, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 2955

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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.