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: 863 - 813

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

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.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
well like the tropics iam off to sleep land later all we got 3 days left in july then aug will be here

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 163 Comments: 52230
Quoting Patrap:

Do i see sum spin in the BOC?
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
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
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Patrap:
Top secret access..?,that's the Aviation Museum in Mobile,Ala. next to the USS Alabama near I-10 sport.

The SR-71 been round since the Early 60's.

And I served near them in NAHA,Okinawa in the 80's.

Just kidding around,I know what the 71 is but not familiar with the rest of the terms.Did you mean to say that you serviced these machines.If so cool and thanks.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
If you look at the satellite animation off the African coast you can see a little bit of a vortex that is getting drawn northward into the Saharan dust low. That is the likely case of what will happen to waves that try to form off the African coast. Energy absorption fueling the dust low
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Well,there ya go.

District 9 is also responsible for the heavy SAL I hear too..LOL
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Patrap:
Yeah,,..but 1,000,000 folks dont go to Mobile for Fat Tuesday..last I checked.

Where ya gonna put um?

On the BB-61?

Distric 9 has given us the tchno to Quato people.2 for 1
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Top secret access..?,that's the Aviation Museum in Mobile,Ala. next to the USS Alabama near I-10 sport.

The SR-71 been round since the Early 60's.

And I served near them in NAHA,Okinawa in the 80's.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
latest shear maps show there looks to be an anticyclone over the wave that is still over Africa
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Patrap:
ARES X-1 is under construction at KSC,..and Constellation is being built here in NOLA by NASA.

Daughter with a SR-71 1995


Is this one of his designs?I thought he was going with the multi passenger tear drop back to orbit design.This is a stealth and you are pushing my leg-nope pulling my leg and your daughter has some sort of top secret access.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Yeah,,..but 1,000,000 folks dont go to Mobile for Fat Tuesday..last I checked.

Where ya gonna put um?

On the BB-61?
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Patrap:

Atlantic Ocean View (Updated ~3 hours)
i use that one on my blog pat good site
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 163 Comments: 52230

Atlantic Ocean View (Updated ~3 hours)
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting SouthALWX:

Mobile .. =P


Lol, I was going to say that. Considering Mobile, AL started Mardi Gras in the States :)

Link
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Patrap:
CIRA needs a better Imaging channel..thats blurry as heck
blurry but still see it thats all that matters
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 163 Comments: 52230
CIRA needs a better Imaging channel..thats blurry as heck
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Patrap:
NOLA been around for 300 years,,spect we'll be round another 2 or so.

..where ya gonna have Mardi Gras ?

Fargo?..LOL

Mobile .. =P
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Meteosat 14 km Water Vapor
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 163 Comments: 52230
Quoting adjusterx:


Sorry that got all jacked up-ster
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
ARES X-1 is under construction at KSC,..and Constellation is being built here in NOLA by NASA.

Daughter with a SR-71 1995

Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Patrap:
Burt Rutan is a great designer..Id fly in it.
But then again..Id fly most anything given the chance
I have been busy but has anything come out since the initial race for space?
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Burt Rutan is a great designer..Id fly in it.
But then again..Id fly most anything given the chance
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting StormW:
<blockquote class='blogquote'>Quoting Patrap:
NOLA been around for 300 years,,spect we'll be round another 2 or so.

..where ya gonna have Mardi Gras ?

Fargo?..LOL



My place! LOL!!

Pat,I love your Led Z post.
Not saying Nola is going anywhere soon but all is rising and changing.I just hope the people and neighborhoods I was in last year really take head to pending storms and don't fall under the illusion that all is fixed and safe.
As far as Mardi Gras goes I heard Burt Ratan was building a special craft for zero G on 2010,IF YOU HAVE THE CASH-yes caps needed.ster
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
The models are seemingly leaning toward a positive NAO during the latter part of August.





Member Since: July 19, 2008 Posts: 43 Comments: 4051
NOLA been around for 300 years,,spect we'll be round another 2 or so.

..where ya gonna have Mardi Gras ?

Fargo?..LOL
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting SevereHurricane:


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




Sam, I hate to say it but the amount of money it will take to build bigger pump houses and levees will eventually be out weighed.Same will happen down here in FL and in other countries as well.When the water pumps and levees become bigger and more expensive than the cities themselves than?????
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
830. SLU
Quoting adjusterx:

That is a good pic of big beautiful mamma.I would suggest that we don't try messing with her any more after the nuke test on land and sea,taking out her forest,drilling into places we don't need to,etc......By the way I have been watching you weather nuts for about two years and appreciate the time ya'll put into the site in order to better inform people like me that can look at the radars but don't have clue where anything may go or develope-ster,just about forgot that.


thanks :) ....
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Are there predictions on when this "Active Period" for Atlantic Hurricanes will end? And if we were not in this "Active Period", what is the normal for the Atlantic Basin?
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting SLU:


July 27th, 2004.

Dead quiet. Lots of dust. Nothing to watch. Little did we know that the Atlantic would be set on fire mere days later.

That is a good pic of big beautiful mamma.I would suggest that we don't try messing with her any more after the nuke test on land and sea,taking out her forest,drilling into places we don't need to,etc......By the way I have been watching you weather nuts for about two years and appreciate the time ya'll put into the site in order to better inform people like me that can look at the radars but don't have clue where anything may go or develope-ster,just about forgot that.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
StormW,
I know this has most likely been asked before, but how does the NAO affect storm formation? What is it, in easy terms? I got a bit confused tonight (might be the cough syrup, though...). Thanks!
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting sammywammybamy:


New Orleans

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

How much can new orleans handle..


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



Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:

my own words
at the above chart with 4 days to go in july look at 77 then 09 you can clearly see that 77 and 09 are right on the mark so far for ace if the next 4 days go without cyclone activity 09 will be tied with 77 for ace

Ryan Maue's Seasonal Tropical Cyclone Activity Update from fla state unvi.
The last tropical cyclone dissipated on July 19, at 00Z (Molave) in the Western Pacific. All global basins are remarkably quiet, especially for the end of July. So far July ACE is about 15, well below the past-30 year average of 70. With a week to go in the month, some sort of activity is necessary to avoid July 2009 becoming the quietest July in the past 30-years.
2009 actually looks a hair lower, for what its worth.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Around my area it still amazes me how people have forgotten Ivan. It was a storm that prompted 9/11-like togetherness for our area. People wore Tshirts, volunteered. Were legitimately aware of what happened. Now? You ask about Ivan and half the people cant differentate between it and Dennis or even Opal. Amazing.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
822. SLU


July 27th, 2004.

Dead quiet. Lots of dust. Nothing to watch. Little did we know that the Atlantic would be set on fire mere days later.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:

my own words
at the above chart with 4 days to go in july look at 77 then 09 you can clearly see that 77 and 09 are right on the mark so far for ace if the next 4 days go without cyclone activity 09 will be tied with 77 for ace

Ryan Maue's Seasonal Tropical Cyclone Activity Update from fla state unvi.
The last tropical cyclone dissipated on July 19, at 00Z (Molave) in the Western Pacific. All global basins are remarkably quiet, especially for the end of July. So far July ACE is about 15, well below the past-30 year average of 70. With a week to go in the month, some sort of activity is necessary to avoid July 2009 becoming the quietest July in the past 30-years.
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 163 Comments: 52230
Quoting I guess it dosent really take long for us to forget


Well not everyone forgets. They had a town hall meeting here in Plaquemines parish tonight to talk about the levees and other things.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting sammywammybamy:


It Suprises me that even after a hurricane like Katrina,Wilma,Rita...

Isnt it odd that there is no stories about the leeves anymore???? I guess it dosent really take long for us to forget


And Ike too..
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting SevereHurricane:


I'm not surprised at all. Everybody thinks the levees are fixed because they didn't fail during Gustav. The New Orleans area is becoming more vulnerable each day, and Boy are they in for a surprise the next time we are effected by a Major Hurricane. If anybody got in a Helicopter and saw how close the water has gotten to the City they would be horrified. A 200 Foot High Levee can't save us I don't care what the Army Corps of Engineers say because they were the reason my house had 12 Feet of Water for a Month! The only way to fix the coastal erosion problem is to destroy the MS River Levee's south of New Orleans or we are done. The destruction to the marsh is almost irreversible. You think Katrina would have waken everyone up, but apparently they haven't. The federal government is going to be some sorry they didn't make this priority 1 when there is no more Port Fourchon or Grand or no Highway 1 and Every Prices go through the roof. I am disgusted that the attention has shifted away from the protection of our city. That's how I feel and I am sure most New Orleanians agree.

Sorry,don't think there is really a way to stop it and feel sorry long time NOLA peeps.I feel alot of FL is going to be in the same boat but,thats mother nature.She has has been shaping and naturaly taking care of this big round ball for a long time and will do what she wants with or without tunnels,levees,monoxides or humans nuclear stupidity.We will have to adjust to her not,her to us.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting sammywammybamy:


It Suprises me that even after a hurricane like Katrina,Wilma,Rita...

Isnt it odd that there is no stories about the leeves anymore???? I guess it dosent really take long for us to forget


I'm not surprised at all. Everybody thinks the levees are fixed because they didn't fail during Gustav. The New Orleans area is becoming more vulnerable each day, and Boy are they in for a surprise the next time we are effected by a Major Hurricane. If anybody got in a Helicopter and saw how close the water has gotten to the City they would be horrified. A 200 Foot High Levee can't save us I don't care what the Army Corps of Engineers say because they were the reason my house had 12 Feet of Water for a Month! The only way to fix the coastal erosion problem is to destroy the MS River Levee's south of New Orleans or we are done. The destruction to the marsh is almost irreversible. You think Katrina would have waken everyone up, but apparently they haven't. The federal government is going to be some sorry they didn't make this priority 1 when there is no more Port Fourchon or Grand or no Highway 1 and Every Prices go through the roof. I am disgusted that the attention has shifted away from the protection of our city. That's how I feel and I am sure most New Orleanians agree.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
I have a quesion. Was 2005 a negative or a positiv NAO? I remember someone saying that most of the big storms weren't long trackers. That would suggest to me a positive NAO. But if it was a positive NAO what steered them into the gulf? Or I could be completely confused. Lol.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Re: Dr. Masters poll about Texas Law.

IKE was projected to strike 180 KM. South of my location. It hit 180 KM. North of me! In that 360 KM. of beach territory it removed 12 to 20 cm. of sand from the entire strand of beach and deposited it in offshore bars. It since has tried to make a reappearance but many local authorities have deemed this is bad for the "tourists." So, they have removed it from the beach and deposited it in the foredunes.

The storm-surge of IKE came within 100 meters of my home but the wind never blew in P.A. A mandatory evacuation was in force. Did I remain to protect my "castle" ? NO - I had already evacuated just as I have done about 4 previous times in the last 35 years.

Am I anxious that the Law Enforcement Agencies now have the power to fine or forcibly remove me from my property ? NO - (Even though I'm ultra-conservative) I'm out of there on my own long before they come around!

Am I happy that they now have that right? Not particularly, but I hope that they will use that power to forcibly remove those who have little or no respect for MY property while I am not there to protect it!!

PortABeachBum.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:

Viewing: 863 - 813

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 JeffMasters

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

Mostly Cloudy
46 °F
Mostly Cloudy