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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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.
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Thick stratocumulus deck offshore Sw USA

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When it comes to evacuations there is so much people have to take into account. Even when you have a CAT 1 with no worry of storm surge. In 2004 I had an uncle that lived less than 2 miles away. He was very sick that summer, going through chemotheraphy. During on the of the many storms that blew through that year he suffered a heart attack. Don't remember which one, but it wasn't very strong. But it did pass that 40 MPH winds where emergency responders stop responding. My father (82 now so well up in his 70s then) went out in the middle of the storm with my brother in law to go pick him off the floor and take him to the hospital. Luckily the entire trip couldn't have been more then 10 miles. He did make it then and died early in 2005. But even a weak storm can have big challenges.
Member Since: September 7, 2006 Posts: 5 Comments: 912
Quoting StormW:


The deeper trofing over the east coast, or western Atlantic is a product of the positive NAO.


There is still a strong Bermuda ridge. The ensemble mean doesn't show the NAO becoming very positive
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 29886
SW you have mail.
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Quoting StormW:


You talkin about both the ridge and trof?


yes
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 29886
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

Alot of the people think they fixed or fullproofed the problems-not sure fullproofed is really a word but is a state of mind some coastal residents are in.Plus they forget how quick stores run out of supplies and no moe come till days after,includung the all precious GASOLINE.
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Quoting Skyepony:
Sorry 456..


is ok man' :)
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Looks to me like the season is really about to get under way soon. I hope everyone has their disaster plans ready, don't be the one unprepared because it's a "slow season" or that "they don't hit so and so".
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Quoting sammywammybamy:
Florida:

It Is more Dangerous this season ... In the 2006 season everyone was well stocked... but though the years people have went back to their "ignorant view of hurricane season" no longer remembering the 04,05 season .. and having no supplies...

People seem to have forgot that hurricane season is even going on...

IF we do get hit by a hurricane then we will be in some major trouble.

You are right,everyone has drank the bottled water and thrown out the supplies they think have gone bad or taking up space.In other words I concursters samsters what you JFVsters,still prepared.
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800. Skyepony (Mod)
Sorry 456..
Member Since: August 10, 2005 Posts: 161 Comments: 37327
Quoting BurnedAfterPosting:


I dont get it, why is nothing wanting to form in the WPAC. We have had now 6 or 7 invests in about 2 weeks and none developed. Dont think I have ever seen that before
i've seen it before in 1977
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 169 Comments: 53296
Quoting Skyepony:
burned~ If we stay quiet, this year's May/June/July will have the lowest ACE since atleast 1970. With this continued time of lack of sunspots & storms, really killin the research that less sunspots intensify storms.



Man you spoiled by blog for 2mr, lol
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Thats a very interesting point burnafterposting
Member Since: August 31, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 833
Savannah Storm
Sorry to see all the damage. A savage storm, indeed.
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794. Skyepony (Mod)
burned~ If we stay quiet, this year's May/June/July will have the lowest ACE since atleast 1970. With this continued time of lack of sunspots & storms, really killin the research that less sunspots intensify storms.

Member Since: August 10, 2005 Posts: 161 Comments: 37327
Quoting Weather456:


higher in 2007. 2004 sal was very high.


and yet we had a very active CV season lol
Quoting BurnedAfterPosting:


SAL isnt that high actually, you are just noticing it more

SAL is the same as it was in 2004 and 2005


higher in 2007. 2004 sal was very high.
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Florida could be in for it this year.
Member Since: August 31, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 833
From an historical perpestive, the same winds that help drives these waves west are the same winds that helped slave ship ships sailed across the tropical Atlantic. In addition some say Columbus discovered the trades as he use them to travel from Spain to the Caribbean in 1492 and then use the westerlies to return.
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Quoting sammywammybamy:
This is Like 1992...

Nothing Happend except the worst storm in history...


There are plenty of seasons that start off slow that don't end up with an Andrew.
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Quoting hunkerdown:
So is it cause you don;t understand it or cause its "automatic" that big wave roll off Africa, conditions must be perfect (cause you said so) and within 24 hours a 175 mph cat 5 ?

Now thats good thinks...

Must have got a peak at the Elephant that spawned it as someone said earlier today.
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Quoting sammywammybamy:


The Question Now is will it survive on water


Yes, it should. The next two weeks will be interesting.
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Quoting FloridaTigers:
Whats with the really high SAL this year?


SAL isnt that high actually, you are just noticing it more

SAL is the same as it was in 2004 and 2005
Whats with the really high SAL this year?
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Keep in mind everyone who is confident on development of the 2nd african wave, the SAL layer isn't retreating much, as you can see in the link Drak posted. This has been (I believe) the main factor in limiting development so far. Shear was quite obviously a big concern for 97L, but now that shear has mostly diminished, still nothing is going on in the CATL. The atmosphere is very stable. So don't be surprised if it takes the wave some time, at least until entering the carib before anything becomes of it, assuming anything does.
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730. TexasGulf Re-entry to the area is a huge problem. After Hugo, in most places if you had id, you could enter an area - however, some of the islands township restricted folks for weeks. Ya had to sneak in by boat. When I hear people talk of not evacuating - this is one of the major reasons given. A valid concern.

As to mandatory evacuations-
I would be happy with letting folks be responsible for themselves. With proper preparation and education - many would be able to determine their situation, and act responsibly. Unfortunately not all people opting to stay will be prepared for the storm, or be educated as to what to expect and what their abode is capable of withstanding. In fact, it may be that most of the people opting to stay, will not have a clue.

I agree with Chicklit and others, that folks staying should not expect a rescue. Putting emergency crews in danger, because you want to exercise your rights, is incredibly selfish.

But that is only part of the problem. After a storm, resources are limited. People who have not planned, are now a drain on the available man power and resources. (Taking away from many people with limited resources who have had their lives transformed by the storm). They may even hinder search and rescue operations.

The really tough one for me, though, is what to do with irresponsible parents. Parents who are treating the storm as a time to party and have young children with no voice in the matter.
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Two other waves over East Africa with the easternmost wave over Ethiopian Highlands, the birth place of AEWs.
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Quoting stormsurge39:
Hunker your a little sesitive???
Nah, just like to put things in perspective at times.
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Don't watch the convection with the wave over Africa, the axis maybe a bit further east. Also a low pressure accompanies this wave based surface obs. Normally waves begin to have their own low pressure aresa as we near August and September.
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Hunker your a little sesitive???
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Quoting stormsurge39:
Anybody with eyes can see the system over Africa has a very good chance of developing. Conditions will also be highly favorable for developement. We also dont need alot of meterology terminology, no offense, to understand this system is big stong and wet. The path has been paved!!!! Here comes ANA
So is it cause you don;t understand it or cause its "automatic" that big wave roll off Africa, conditions must be perfect (cause you said so) and within 24 hours a 175 mph cat 5 ?

Now thats good thinks...
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Anybody with eyes can see the system over Africa has a very good chance of developing. Conditions will also be highly favorable for developement. We also dont need alot of meterology terminology, no offense, to understand this system is big stong and wet. The path has been paved!!!! Here comes ANA
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Quoting futuremet:
Beautiful wave about to exit Africa.

Pretty active behind it also...a promising first half of August possibly ?
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Quoting SavannahStorm:
Some damage and flooding from today's storm:







Pretty whopping thunderstorm eh? We haven't had hardly any seabreeze storms this summer. Trough pattern has been very hit or miss. Certainly not a usual pattern for this time of year.
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Quoting Magicchaos:
My 8PM tropical analysis


Great job on your analyses.
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Quoting homelesswanderer:
I completely agree with your right to stay durng a hurricane. I also completely agree that if you do you are on your own. One of the saddest stories from Ike was...A man had driven his wife and children to safety in Mississippi then he turned around to come back to protect his home. When he was stuck in rising water on I 10 above Bridge City he called 911. The 911 operator told him to call his wife. They found his truck first and him much later. I just don't get it. But I guarantee his wife and kids would rather have him than the house.


Yea I agree, human life is so much more than property, some just think they can save both, it just isnt worth it.
Quoting Drakoen:
18z Dust Forecast
Still seems pretty dusty from that loop. Does retreat a littlr north but then seems to sag back down sout at the end of the run.
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My 8PM tropical analysis
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I completely agree with your right to stay durng a hurricane. I also completely agree that if you do you are on your own. One of the saddest stories from Ike was...A man had driven his wife and children to safety in Mississippi then he turned around to come back to protect his home. When he was stuck in rising water on I 10 above Bridge City he called 911. The 911 operator told him to call his wife. They found his truck first and him much later. I just don't get it. But I guarantee his wife and kids would rather have him than the house.
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Oh snap fellas. Sir, wheres it gonna hit?
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Beautiful wave about to exit Africa.

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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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