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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there is something just off the coast of affrica!!! it looks promising. what do you guys think?
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Can someone please post a current sat pic of waht is going on in Africa. Thank You. Also please post a site where we can get current African Sat Pics.
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I don't expect much to happen until the 2-3rd week of august.
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Savannah, noticed your user image, is there good tarpon fishing in your area? I live very near Boca Grande, all the tournaments are ending, but some really big fish caught the last two seasons. Do they run pretty thick up there?
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658. IKE
Quoting TexasHurricane:


So, how acurate are these? I was thinking that these models haven't been very good this year...


The GFS hasn't been. It's been spinning up systems in the eastern Atlantic. Not so much lately though.

I've been posting on this blog since 2005. That's about the time I really started following the tropics every day. This season is as opposite of 2005, so far, that I could imagine. GFS model run going to mid-August with virtually nothing, with no named systems so far?

It's only one model and one run, but it does have some company through August 6th in the more reliable ECMWF.

Comebacks welcome.....

IKESTER......
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
Delurking after 27 months :)

I live in an apartment in Houston. I don't have a gas generator because I could only run it outside for safety reasons. (Partly the safety, I should say, of any loser who tries to steal it from me... I am armed.)

This is what I have: the human powered Weza generator from Freeplay (the people who make the high-end wind-up radio gadgets).



You can charge it fully and keep it charged from the wall--it holds a charge a long time. When the charge is depleted, you can power it by pumping the foot pedal (the "handle") rather vigorously for a bit longer than you really want to unless you're a Marine. :)

I have used an inverter (the kind you plug into your car cigarette lighter) successfully with the Weza to power a fan during Ike, and I plugged my cell phone car adapter into it too and it worked fine.

It lists for 299, but I combined a promotional code with a sale and got it from an obscure sporting site for 219. Look around.

Back to lurking until I have something to add. Thanks, everyone.
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Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 423 Comments: 128259
Quoting Weather456:


There're not very accurate that far out but the funny thing is if the GFS was forecasting a cyclone in August 12 some of them would be saying that the GFS is unreliable and such, only when the GFS is showing nothing it becomes reliable. lol

Basically that far out is unreliable whether the model is showing a TC or not.


exactly 456 lol, I said something like that a few days ago. I mean if the models have been so bad this season and everyone thinks they are crazy when they develop something, then why arent they crazy when they say its quiet? lol

653. DDR
Quoting wunderkidcayman:

I want it this weekend or start this weekend and a very good start

the gfs has moisture around your area by weekend :D
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Quoting TexasHurricane:


So, how acurate are these? I was thinking that these models haven't been very good this year...


There're not very accurate that far out but the funny thing is if the GFS was forecasting a cyclone in August 12 some of them would be saying that the GFS is unreliable and such, only when the GFS is showing nothing it becomes reliable. lol

Basically that far out is unreliable whether the model is showing a TC or not.
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The National Weather Service in Charleston has issued a

* Flash Flood Warning for...
Chatham County in southeast Georgia...

* until 915 PM EDT

* at 716 PM EDT... National Weather Service Doppler radar indicated
very heavy rain... with hourly rainfall rates as high as 2 inches
per hour... occurring near Garden City... or about 6
miles northwest of Savannah... moving east at 10 mph.

* Flash flooding is expected in and around...
Garden City... Savannah Airport...
White Bluff...
Windsor Forest... Vernonburg...
Savannah...
Sandfly...

Precautionary/preparedness actions...

The National Weather Service has received reports of water on roads
in Savannah. Additional torrential rainfall will occur as new
thunderstorms develop and advance across areas that have already
received over 2 inches of rain. Avoid driving into water on the
Road. The water is usually deeper than it appears and the Road may
be washed out. Only one foot of water will stall a vehicle and less
than two feet of water can float and carry away a vehicle. Flooding
is the number one weather-related cause of death in the United
States. When encountering flooded roads make the smart choice... turn
around... dont drown.
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I am very confused.

welcome to the main blog.
Member Since: January 24, 2007 Posts: 317 Comments: 31946
Graph Du Jour of the week


Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 423 Comments: 128259
648. IKE
Quoting serialteg:


Kind of + and -, I'm wishing for hurricanes for surfing purposes.

If someone came up with the method of destroying hurricanes, I would be pissed. Instead, a hurricane (and asteroid) deflection system would be more cool. That way I'd still get my surfing done.


I don't see much hope on that run.

18Z NOGAPS is all clear through August 2nd...


The wave that's over Africa right now heading for the Atlantic may be the best hope.
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
Question.

Why is it that Bill Gates weather modification idea is crazy if not downright dangerous because it might have unpredictable results and yet blaming carbon dioxide for global warming and then proceeding to remove it from the atmosphere in a similar attempt to control the temperature is not?

Both are aimed at temperature reduction are they not? How can one be dangerous and the other not?

Please explain. Will reducing the temperature in the GOM reduce or cause more hurricanes?

I am very confused.
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Quoting IKE:
Here's some good news. The 18Z GFS shows virtually nothing in the Atlantic through August 12th.


So, how acurate are these? I was thinking that these models haven't been very good this year...
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Satellite Imagery from the University of Miami
There is no endorsement of NWHHC by the University of Miami.




Loops are for informational purposes only. Please refer to local emergency management officials for official information
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 423 Comments: 128259
Quoting help4u:
conditions for august will not be favorable for formation,no matter what the models say.this is a dead season.
no help 4 u
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 171 Comments: 53790
Quoting SavannahStorm:
Yikes, power's back up incredibly quickly after a nasty storm. Still storming a little bit here, but nothing like earlier. We had some gusts I'd estimate at least at 50+ mph, and the most lightning in one storm I've ever witnessed. Tops on the storm peaked over 50,000 ft as two different sea breeze fronts merged over the city:




Wishing everyone's OK over there
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Yikes, power's back up incredibly quickly after a nasty storm. Still storming a little bit here, but nothing like earlier. We had some gusts I'd estimate at least at 50+ mph, and the most lightning in one storm I've ever witnessed. Tops on the storm peaked over 50,000 ft as two different sea breeze fronts merged over the city:


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Quoting IKE:
Here's some good news. The 18Z GFS shows virtually nothing in the Atlantic through August 12th.


Kind of + and -, I'm wishing for hurricanes for surfing purposes.

If someone came up with the method of destroying hurricanes, I would be pissed. Instead, a hurricane (and asteroid) deflection system would be more cool. That way I'd still get my surfing done.
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Quoting centrfla:
thanks 456...i'm new at this


The best channel for viewing mid-upper features and upper flow is the water vapor imagery


For mid-lowr features the best to use is visible and other channels which uses a blend of visibles (RGB)


Here's another upper low in the N Atlantic

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conditions for august will not be favorable for formation,no matter what the models say.this is a dead season.
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Quoting DDR:

Ok well,hopefully things will heat up next month and you'll get some rain.

I want it this weekend or start this weekend and a very good start
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thanks 456...i'm new at this
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Quoting centrfla:
anyone see the swirl in the sw quadrant of the gom???


upper low

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635. DDR
Quoting wunderkidcayman:

I don't know but I don't thing it is normal to be under 30mm we should be seeing more rain than we've been having

Ok well,hopefully things will heat up next month and you'll get some rain.
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anyone see the swirl in the sw quadrant of the gom???
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Wow...Looks like it's raining pretty much everywhere...
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Quoting BurnedAfterPosting:


interesting so this is kind of uncharted territory in a way?


yea...the other theory to explain the CV low is that the wave axis extends further north and so the low must be along the wave and the 2 related but satellite imagery and QuikSCAT quickly discount this idea, and suggest the 2 are sperate features.
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Quoting homelesswanderer:


H :)
i go with B
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august conditions look like they are setting up much like june and july.don'think there will be any storms in august.maybe one in september.this season is going to be a record one or two storms,if that.
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Quoting DDR:

Hi wunderkid
Is the dry weather you've been experiencing normal for this time of year?I've looked at personal stations on the island all are under 30mm.wow...

I don't know but I don't thing it is normal to be under 30mm we should be seeing more rain than we've been having
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626. DDR
Quoting Weather456:


haze at first but being washed out by showers. We have been having some frequent showers up here lately

Great!
you'll get alot more next month
Well we've had a average july,thats super.
August=floods,traffic jams and less productivity.
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Quoting Weather456:
The CV low is the center of a broad area of low pressure which sits along the West Coast of Africa and consist as part of the secondary circulation of the monsoon system. The CV low is forecast to head SW and deepen, likely due to the strong high bridging from the CATL to Europe, cutting of any Northerly movement. Most models show the CV low will eventually weaken in the CATL as its circulation become disrupted by strong NE trades. However, before doing so, will be monitored to see how interacts with the wave at 18W. It is common for these low pressure areas to drift off West Africa but they normally head NW and dissipate.


interesting so this is kind of uncharted territory in a way?
The CV low is the center of a broad area of low pressure which sits along the West Coast of Africa and consist as part of the secondary circulation of the monsoon system. The CV low is forecast to head SW and deepen, likely due to the strong high bridging from the CATL to Europe, cutting of any Northerly movement. Most models show the CV low will eventually weaken in the CATL as its circulation become disrupted by strong NE trades. However, before doing so, will be monitored to see how interacts with the wave at 18W. It is common for these low pressure areas to drift off West Africa but they normally head NW and dissipate. This likely cause when strong synoptic disturbances disrupt the normal flow of things across West Africa, i.e. African easterly waves.
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Storm, No i havent
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Im not talking about developement right now. This wont happen until sat or sun of this week.
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Quoting BurnedAfterPosting:
dont get ahead of yourselves, just because conditions are favorable doesnt mean you will get a named system

look at the WPAC, mostly favorable and nothing seems to want to form right now

well that's because there is nothing is out there for anything to form
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Storm whats your thoughts on the wave over Africa now?
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618. DDR
Quoting wunderkidcayman:

yep

Hi wunderkid
Is the dry weather you've been experiencing normal for this time of year?I've looked at personal stations on the island all are under 30mm.wow...
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dont get ahead of yourselves, just because conditions are favorable doesnt mean you will get a named system

look at the WPAC, mostly favorable and nothing seems to want to form right now
Quoting tropicfreak:


Could it develop.

that is what I want to know
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Quoting DDR:

yes we had scattered showers yesterday afternoon and this morning,20mm of rain fell.
How has the weather been on your side?
I bet alot of haze.


haze at first but being washed out by showers. We have been having some frequent showers up here lately
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Quoting wunderkidcayman:

yep


Could it develop.
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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.