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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Quoting wunderkidcayman:

yep


Could it develop.
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Burned im cool. It will be fun to track a storm.
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Quoting tropicfreak:


Where? at CV?

yep
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Quoting Stormchaser2007:


Shear looks favorable so we'll see.



Plus the wave ahead of it will clear the dust for the wave behind it.
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609. DDR
Quoting Weather456:
Hey DDR, did showers past thru yestreday, it seemed you guys got a light one or 2.

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.
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Quoting jasoniscoolman09:
its a tropical low.


Where? at CV?
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Hey DDR, did showers past thru yestreday, it seemed you guys got a light one or 2.
Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
Quoting stormsurge39:
TD soon to be ANA will start forming this weekend!! A.THIS WEEKEND


um ok chill out lol, A says tomorrow, its not going to be classified tomorrow, so go with B lol
TD soon to be ANA will start forming this weekend!! A.THIS WEEKEND
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Thx

Quoting atmoaggie:


So much dry air and dust out there it's used tissues are probably funny colors (like when anyone in south TX mows the grass...well, when they did, that is...none left to mow).


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Quoting stormsurge39:
Stormchaser the conditions will be right when this next wave comes off. It will be able to shake that dust. SAL will not have any impact. This will be a depression on aug 1st.


Shear looks favorable so we'll see.

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Quoting SavannahStorm:


A head-on collision.


Still no rain on Tybee!! It always goes up the Bull River and we need rain bad (I just worked on my garden)
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Quoting Weather456:
When will Ana form

A) Tomorrow
B) Next week
C) Two weeks from now
D) Three weeks from now
E) A month from now
F) September
G) NEVER!!!!!!


H, I havnt a clue


H :)
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600. DDR
Quoting Weather456:
The wave currently over Africa stands a better chance since dust if forecast to be at low levels this weekend

Lower right is the dust forecast - anything higher than yellow is bad like what we see now.



Hi 456,
we've had clear skies a few days now,SAL has retreated north,August usually brings clear skies,along with bad weather...
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Back to Bill Gates idea; it sucks. At heart it is just a hugely more effective way to store heat in the ocean rather than let it radiate into space like a hurricane does. Just think what would happen to the GOM if the heat now dissipated by hurricanes is stored in deeper waters over a period of a hundred or thousand years? While hurricanes do that to some extent already, they pay their way by pumping massive amounts of heat straight up.
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convergence and divergence are even higher for the area that just came off the coast
CV low.

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Stormchaser the conditions will be right when this next wave comes off. It will be able to shake that dust. SAL will not have any impact. This will be a depression on aug 1st.
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Quoting BurnedAfterPosting:


That surge is about to end, in fact it doesnt appear that the SAL isnt having much impact on the wave that just moved off the coast. If there is enough convergence and divergence, then a wave can sustain convection even in dry conditions until it find better conditions overall.


It appears that it does have some nice convergence and divergence at the moment. Also the 850mb vorticity isnt bad. Im not saying that this will die when it comes off the coast, im just saying that it shouldnt be able to develop right after it comes off the coast. Maybe when it reaches the CATL or far EATL.
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The wave currently over Africa stands a better chance since dust if forecast to be at low levels this weekend

Lower right is the dust forecast - anything higher than yellow is bad like what we see now.


Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
Quoting Stormchaser2007:


Well with a large surge of SAL rushing off of Africa now I would think that when it does come off the coast it would meet some rather hostile conditions.


That surge is about to end, in fact it doesnt appear that the SAL isnt having much impact on the wave that just moved off the coast. If there is enough convergence and divergence, then a wave can sustain convection even in dry conditions until it find better conditions overall.
.
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Quoting BurnedAfterPosting:


the SAL shouldnt impact the wave that is over African now,


Well with a large surge of SAL rushing off of Africa now I would think that when it does come off the coast it would meet some rather hostile conditions.The wave does appear to have a nice signature at the moment. We'll see what happens.
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Quoting Stormchaser2007:




the SAL shouldnt impact the wave that is over African now,


A head-on collision.
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.

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584. JRRP
Quoting wunderkidcayman:

can someone tell me why there is a low at CV

look at the comment 130
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Quoting CycloneOz:


Oh...so it was GOES-"O", not zero...

Still a little weird, don't ya think?


Always been that way with GOES. Wiki Link
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Quoting sebastianflorida:
I'd say 13 storms, 5 in Aug, 6 in Sept, 1 Oct, 1 Nov; 2 Hurr Aug, 4 Hurr Sept, 1 Oct, O Hurr Nov; I Major in 2nd half Aug, 2 Major Sept, 1 Maj Oct, 0 Maj Nov; 2 US landfalls, 1 Aug e cst FL between Broward & Cape Cnvl, 1 Oct Ge. Brnswk area. 3 Trop storms, 1 Cuba Sept, 2 Fl Aug & Sept. Depression after Depression beginning next wk, several landfalling, severe flooding w/stalling off e cst Fl and LS, MS over next 70 days. Just my thoughts.


wheww, deep breathe!!!! lol, We'll see!
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that low is making me look more and more
this is the 18Z map
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GOSE-12, the satellite we have been using since 2001 or so might be the next satellite to be retired and as early as this year. GOES-12 have been used for GOES-East and is the satellite that took many of the images we have been posting since the blog started.
Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
Yea oz tweety is her code name that kinda rhymes with her professional title meetyorolo.lol
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Ha, you don't know whats under my can

Oscar the Grouch?
Member Since: January 24, 2007 Posts: 317 Comments: 31946
Quoting wunderkidcayman:

could it become a TD?


um I dont know lol
Quoting stormsurge39:
There is a real possibility to have a depression develope out of the wave over Africa right now. This would happen this weakend.


I guarantee it wont be a depression by this weekend. Just like you, I have my reasons for believing this.
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575. DDR
Quoting nrtiwlnvragn:

I love that shot,amazing...
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Quoting nrtiwlnvragn:


The always change from alphabetic to numeric once the satellite is on orbit, its done by NOAA. 14 is just the next number (13 in storage).


Oh...so it was GOES-"O", not zero...

Still a little weird, don't ya think?
Member Since: August 26, 2006 Posts: 10 Comments: 3892
Quoting BurnedAfterPosting:


because there is a surface low there thats why

could it become a TD?
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Quoting wunderkidcayman:

can someone tell me why there is a low at CV


because there is a surface low there thats why

also that is the old image, 18Z is out and the low is right in the middle of the CV Islands
Quoting CycloneOz:
Nice pic, nrtiwlnvragn

Interesting caption.

Launched as GOES-0, renamed GOES-14 once it achieved geosynchronous orbit.

Hmmmmm.....

Since when did NASA start renaming space missions?

Why change it to 14? 14 is not a prime number, it's not even a great year for being a teen-ager.

I'm perplexed now.


The always change from alphabetic to numeric once the satellite is on orbit, its done by NOAA. 14 is just the next number (13 in storage).
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can someone tell me why there is a low at CV
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Quoting stormsurge39:
The wave over Africa at 5w will be able to shake the african dust. It will be a depression by this weekend. A little birdie told me who is very reliable!!!!


Name dropper!

It was TweetyBird using Twitter and you got a tweet, right?
Member Since: August 26, 2006 Posts: 10 Comments: 3892
BEN just wait and see
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Quoting stormsurge39:
The wave over Africa at 5w will be able to shake the african dust. It will be a depression by this weekend. A little birdie told me who is very reliable!!!!


Your magic 8-ball?
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Nice pic, nrtiwlnvragn

Interesting caption.

Launched as GOES-0, renamed GOES-14 once it achieved geosynchronous orbit.

Hmmmmm.....

Since when did NASA start renaming space missions?

Why change it to 14? 14 is not a prime number, it's not even a great year for being a teen-ager.

I'm perplexed now.
Member Since: August 26, 2006 Posts: 10 Comments: 3892
The wave over Africa at 5w will be able to shake the african dust. It will be a depression by this weekend. A little birdie told me who is very reliable!!!!
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Quoting CycloneOz:


That's priceless! And yes...I am LOL, ROFLMAO!

Too funny!

But you know, seriously...you've got the right idea. You'd have a mobility problem to overcome, but that's about right, isn't it? :)


Ha, you don't know whats under my can. You would'nt say that to R2D2 would you :)

out --
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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.