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 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 --
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
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.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
561. JRRP
Quoting futuremet:


It is not only the Atlantic that is quiet--the whole world has been quiet for quite some time now lol.

------------------------------------------------

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!!!!!!

I choose C
.
B
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting futuremet:


It is not only the Atlantic that is quiet--the whole world has been quiet for quite some time now lol.

------------------------------------------------

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!!!!!!

I choose C


F
Member Since: Posts: Comments:

Member Since: Posts: Comments:

I wonder,what the hell is going on!!!!!!
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting extreme236:


But we can't say its going to be that way for a time span of 3 weeks. I find it rather silly some of the outlandish predictions for 4/5 named storms and stuff like that.


Agreed, you can't say practically anything about 3 weeks out. That is true.

But look at the last two months! The waters are cooler, a weird El Nino is coming in place, SAL practically encircles the globe! omg...it's a TC's worst nightmare!

Until some of this crazy stuff moves out, I'm still cheering for a 0,0,0 year!

I love defensive struggles! :)
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting stormsurge39:
Does anybody think the new wave coming off africa looks better than the last few? Do you think it will develope or meet the same fate as all the other ones?


It will fizzle out like the rest of them!
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good afternoon every one what up what new can anyone give me an update
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Quoting Ossqss:


Hey, Chisanbop practice ATMo

Oz, I am ready to join you this year :)



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? :)
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
F=Fish
Member Since: March 19, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 1421
Hey, Chisanbop practice ATMo

Oh, that method. Why didn't ya say so?
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There is a real possibility to have a depression develope out of the wave over Africa right now. This would happen this weakend.
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Quoting atmoaggie:


You have that many digits on your hand?!? Wow. (Sorry, was there)


Hey, Chisanbop practice ATMo

Oz, I am ready to join you this year :)

Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting CycloneOz:


Lots of SAL, other weird goings on in the tropics these days.

I actually hope it takes longer.

The "NEVER" answer would freak me out!


But we can't say its going to be that way for a time span of 3 weeks. I find it rather silly some of the outlandish predictions for 4/5 named storms and stuff like that.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting ESAsurfphotog:
It's odd that Bill Gates would have to come up with a way to "raise" $3b to make such an attempt. The sales from his OS alone in less than 90 days could more than double that amount.


But the implications of having to reboot however many pumps every week is daunting. Not to mention when a service pack comes out that loads drivers that try to force an AMD chip into speaking Intelese (true story, XP SP3!).

They should probably avoid making these pumps capable of displaying a blue screen somewhere.

(I resisted for as long as I could, now back off of MS-bashing perch)
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting extreme236:


I highly doubt it will take that long.


Lots of SAL, other weird goings on in the tropics these days.

I actually hope it takes longer.

The "NEVER" answer would freak me out!
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
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



E
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting TampaFLUSA:

D
B
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Comparing the last three years I dont think that we will have a season like 08, as for as numbers, but I also do not think that we will have a season as quiet as 06. Wait until mid to late august.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
No, I am LoL, (Lots of Luck), LOL

I understand that is not appropriate now right :) L8R


I guess someone got their Underoos in a bunch...

;)
Member Since: January 24, 2007 Posts: 317 Comments: 31946
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
Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
The wave to watch,is the one that will be emerging off the coast of Afica by Wednesday.Im going to guess by August 1st at 40w to 50w that this will develope into a depression.Anybody else want to go with that?
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Quoting CycloneOz:


Form, as in becoming a named storm, August 16, 2009....so about 3 weeks from now.

(D)


I highly doubt it will take that long.
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From Dr. Masters Blog:
(Title) Bill Gates takes on hurricanes

If you're going to take on a hurricane this day and age, there's only one way I'm familiar with.

Link

He's always welcome to join in... :)
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Quoting ESAsurfphotog:
It's odd that Bill Gates would have to come up with a way to "raise" $3b to make such an attempt. The sales from his OS alone in less than 90 days could more than double that amount.


I guess all the Microsoft hackers will now start peeing in the Ocean.
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Good evening
Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
Quoting Ossqss:
BTW, the answer I got for 492 was

260,663,040,000,000 gallons in 24 hrs.

I ran out of digits on my cheap calculator and had to do it by hand, so it may be wrong on the low side. LoL


You have that many digits on your hand?!? Wow. (Sorry, was there)
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting mobilegirl81:
Lets just say judgeing by the last two years we look to be going back into an upward swing with the cycle that we are in.


Assuming that means going to get pretty active?
What do you think about the Gulf? Think we will get any strong land falling storms? And if so, I wonder where....hmmmmm
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting futuremet:
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!!!!!!


Form, as in becoming a named storm, August 16, 2009....so about 3 weeks from now.

(D)
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
It's odd that Bill Gates would have to come up with a way to "raise" $3b to make such an attempt. The sales from his OS alone in less than 90 days could more than double that amount.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting NRAamy:
Ossqss....are you really LOL?

;)


No, I am LoL, (Lots of Luck), LOL

I understand that is not appropriate now right :) L8R
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting mobilegirl81:
Lets just say judgeing by the last two years we look to be going back into an upward swing with the cycle that we are in.


I hate to say it but I agree....
Sure seems that way....

Taco :0)
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Lets just say judgeing by the last two years we look to be going back into an upward swing with the cycle that we are in.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Even though the eastern wave is holding up, the NHC will NOT mention it, atleast not until
Wednesday if its even there. Persitance.
Member Since: July 8, 2005 Posts: 259 Comments: 24157
Ossqss....are you really LOL?

;)
Member Since: January 24, 2007 Posts: 317 Comments: 31946
BTW, the answer I got for 492 was

260,663,040,000,000 gallons in 24 hrs.

I ran out of digits on my cheap calculator and had to do it by hand, so it may be wrong on the low side. LoL
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting futuremet:


It is not only the Atlantic that is quiet--the whole world has been quiet for quite some time now lol.

------------------------------------------------

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!!!!!!

I choose C



OK I choose B maybe closer to C

Taco :0)
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Almost as funny as the show (on history channel or discovery talking about Hurricane warfare) . Were they said "China actually steered Katrina toward Louisana by using some ion changing projection device". This is also why Florida has not been hit in the last 3 years?????!!!!! NASA must have it too. ION Projection system OOOWEEOOO. Believe it? or just LAO!
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
That Bill Gates sure is one selfish guy.

Quoting mobilegirl81:
Just like someone with billions of dollars to go off and do something stupid.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
BAP...you are no longer on my S list....

;)
Member Since: January 24, 2007 Posts: 317 Comments: 31946
Quoting futuremet:


It is not only the Atlantic that is quiet--the whole world has been quiet for quite some time now lol.

------------------------------------------------

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!!!!!!

I choose C


C
Member Since: March 19, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 1421
Quoting futuremet:


It is not only the Atlantic that is quiet--the whole world has been quiet for quite some time now lol.

------------------------------------------------

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!!!!!!

I choose C


awww heck I will go out on a limb and say B
I posted once but its been rather boring so far. I'm sure I will be around more in the coming weeks. I see you on here all the time.

Quoting futuremet:
JupiterFL

long time no see

Is that your first time posting since last year?
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting futuremet:


It is not only the Atlantic that is quiet--the whole world has been quiet for quite some time now lol.

------------------------------------------------

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!!!!!!

I choose C

D
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting mobilegirl81:
I do not think we will have a season like 2006 this year.


It is not only the Atlantic that is quiet--the whole world has been quiet for quite some time now lol.

------------------------------------------------

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!!!!!!

I choose C
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Disturbance near the CV Islands holding up...clearly under easterly shear right now. Very interesting wave over Central Africa. Could be the one to watch in a couple days.
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Quoting mobilegirl81:
I do not think we will have a season like 2006 this year.


So, what kind of season you think we will have?
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I do not think we will have a season like 2006 this year.
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Quoting stormsurge39:
Does anybody think the new wave coming off africa looks better than the last few? Do you think it will develope or meet the same fate as all the other ones?

There is too much dry air imo.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:

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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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