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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can't wait to do it again!
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what about gators? cocktails? sounds like fun!
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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
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
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Quoting TampaSpin:


Amazing what a boyfriend can do to a Gator.....OMG....I'm dying....


how bout them phillies?!?!
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909. 7544
nice run tampa looks like we just might get a-b-c-d- all in the month of augest
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westernafrika
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Quoting gordydunnot:
Tampa tell me she is not going to root for the wrong team at the big cocktail party.


Amazing what a boyfriend can do to a Gator.....OMG....I'm dying....
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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

I don't know who Jason is,Ihave seen his post but I can barley read yours.I am not a troll and have nothing bad to say so as WS or JFV-ster says-LEAVE me alone.I only talk to people I have seen and listened to on here for the last 2 or 2.5 years -sters.
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Awesome, Skypony! Thanks for the link.
I just finished my next-to-last assignment for a grad course in grant writing...gosh, I cannot stand it anymore! Going to school and working at the same time makes it almost impossible to have any life at all...cripes.
anyway, understand there's something brewing about 2,000 miles away.
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Tampa tell me she is not going to root for the wrong team at the big cocktail party.
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Quoting adjusterx:

What is the Spruce Goose?


A youngster!! Ever hear of Howard Hughs?
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Quoting msphar:
Spruce Goose was the largest plane ever built in the USA. Bigger than a 747 made out of wood. Designed, built and test flown by Howard Hughes. Never developed. It came out too late for the war effort, in 1945 I think. Its a water bird. Takes off and lands on pontoons. Design goal was to haul military equipment to Europe as an end run around the Uboat threat. Unbelievable plane. Read up on it and go see it.

I will and thanks for the info.. I can't believe it is all wood and bigger than 747.Incredible,Thanks again and will look it up.
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Quoting StormW:
Good night.

Night StormW
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Spruce Goose was the largest plane ever built in the USA. Bigger than a 747 made out of wood. Designed, built and test flown by Howard Hughes. Never developed. It came out too late for the war effort, in 1945 I think. Its a water bird. Takes off and lands on pontoons. Design goal was to haul military equipment to Europe as an end run around the Uboat threat. Unbelievable plane. Read up on it and go see it.
Member Since: August 20, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 289
Quoting adjusterx:

Any insight on this one??ster

This one looks like a 7-10 split and a full pickup with a second roll.
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Quoting jasoniscoolman09:

Any insight on this one??ster
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GFS long range model
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Priceless is it and we are getting ready for middle tackle football-whoops I meant FOOTBALL-here in PSL,FL
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Quoting gordydunnot:
Tampa I think the line is priceless. Seriously glad you had a good time.


Yep their only your kid once...she leaves Friday for Fall classes for College to Univ. of Georgia...
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Quoting msphar:
There's a Stealth on static display outside at Lackland AFB in San Antonio, Tx, also one at the air museum in Merced, Ca. Not sure if there is stuff left up at Marysville, Beale AFB but they used to fly out of there. An old buddy of mine worked on some of their Comm/Nav back in the day. There was a pile of SR-71 parts in the McMinnville, Ore, museum that houses the Spruce Goose, last time I checked in there. Several years back (2003), I suspect that restoration has moved forward quite a ways since then. Amazing plane.

What is the Spruce Goose?
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Tampa I think the line is priceless. Seriously glad you had a good time.
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There's a Stealth on static display outside at Lackland AFB in San Antonio, Tx, also one at the air museum in Merced, Ca. Not sure if there is stuff left up at Marysville, Beale AFB but they used to fly out of there. An old buddy of mine worked on some of their Comm/Nav back in the day. There was a pile of SR-71 parts in the McMinnville, Ore, museum that houses the Spruce Goose, last time I checked in there. Several years back (2003), I suspect that restoration has moved forward quite a ways since then. Amazing plane.
Member Since: August 20, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 289
wait now it brings it back at 126 hours lmao

Link
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Quoting stormdude77:


Link?


It dropped it soon after, dont worry about it lol
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NVM then BAP
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Quoting TampaSpin:
off topic some but i had a great evening with my daughter tonite...got our butts beat by the Yanks...but the time spent was awsome....

Link

Yankee payroll-5 billion dollars-Time spent with kids-you know the rest..
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Quoting BurnedAfterPosting:


yea I see that, it actually develops the wave that is south of the CV Islands


Link?
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Quoting TampaSpin:


Yep.....i think "D" if i remember....


Yea but it dropped it again lol

I have very little confidence with the GFS right now until it holds onto a storm. I only look at it now just to see, but whether it develops something or not right now to me is irrelevant.
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880. Skyepony (Mod)
Wow, the moment we've all waited for..well me anyway.. They are testing the newly launched GOES-14..First images~ talk about crisp.

(click image for full size..it's worth it)

CIMSS sat blog has a bunch of close ups, neat swirls, amazon, the ship tracks in the stratocumulus clouds over the North Pacific Ocean & etc..
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Quoting Patrap:


Burt Rutan's website, scaled composites

Thank ya Pat
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Quoting TampaSpin:
The GFS long range is finally showing a storm developing....i think the first this year.

when and where?
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I have to disagree Dr Masters. I thought Day after Tomorrow was a good movie. It's not so implausible that if the cycle were to dye off we'd have issues. Just because they put it on such an epic scale does not mean it did not serve any purpose.

I'd rather people think of the consequences at least. If a silly movie is what it takes then so be it.
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off topic some but i had a great evening with my daughter tonite...got our butts beat by the Yanks...but the time spent was awsome....

Link
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Burt Rutan's website, scaled composites
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Quoting BurnedAfterPosting:


yea I see that, it actually develops the wave that is south of the CV Islands


Yep.....i think "D" if i remember....
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Quoting TampaSpin:
The GFS long range is finally showing a storm developing....i think the first this year.


yea I see that, it actually develops the wave that is south of the CV Islands
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Quoting Patrap:
I was a US Marine from 80-88 in the Air Wing.
The US Air Force was charged with the SR-71 and they flew outta Kadena,AFB ..Okinawa while I was stationed up at Camp Hansen,USMC.. Base North of there from Sept 82-Sept 83

Pat,I enjoy your insight on this blog and also want to say thank you and every other soldier that may be lurking on here for your time and effort.Will leave ya to the weather now.I would like some more Ratan links if ya hav'em.
Thanks again.
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The GFS long range is finally showing a storm developing....i think the first this year.
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Seems someone is a lil gifted ,I had 2 MOS's, Baker and Cook.

3371,3311
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Quoting WeatherStudent:


in other words, nothing will develop in the EATL until that dust low dies?


Precisely JFVster
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Gulf of Mexico (Updated every ~10-15 mins.)
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Quoting AussieStorm:

Do i see sum spin in the BOC?


Oh I hope not Aussie..but best to keep a wary eye always down there this time of year.
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Quoting sammywammybamy:
Danger City Disaster

Miami

is borded to a Wetland to its west , and Ocean to its south and east , and a coastline to its north...

With only 3 north-south Highways (I-95,Turnpike,I-75 (Which crosses the state...)

The Metro area of 5.4 millon ( one of the largest in the united states) would be forced to evacuate north......

an transportation nightmare

Miami int airport is an iternational hub...

Houston


One of the nation's biggest city and as shown in the rita evacuation..

Getting out of their isnt easy

Although not as high as the risk of miami (beacuse its inland) it can still be a major devstating disatster if a hurricane hits that city

New York

Will it Happen in our lifetime? Maybe ... Maybe not...

but if stormsurge goes to new york city ... except a catatsrophe...


Tampa Bay

Charley almost hit there... and it too is a large port and metro area.., if storm surge is to hit the bay ... the water will be forced onto the land as it has no where else to go

New Orleans

If another storm strikes in the next 20 years it might be called the "Finsher" ...

How much can new orleans handle..


how much can anyone in the gulf states handle...??? all of us have dealt with disaster in the past. but the bottom line is i choose to live in SE TX. 5miles from water. its the chance we take living on the coast.
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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.