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: 313 - 263

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

Link

Good story about a dog lost in Ike and it's return home
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
we have voluntary evac and mandatory evac but the both of them will trap you if you dont leave cuz the bridges will close. And dont expect nobody to come for ya after that
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting StormW:
Just got a pleasant surprise...Barometer Bob just phoned me...he's gonna have me on the show Thursday night.
thats alright storm i listen every thursday night so i will see ya there
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 169 Comments: 53296
Eventually they'll have enough laws to make criminals of everyone.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
damn the site I use for the areas off Africa isnt working now
We have had thet law at the beaches for a long time but it isnt used
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Just what we need, more laws.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting StormW:
Just got a pleasant surprise...Barometer Bob just phoned me...he's gonna have me on the show Thursday night.

awesome news Storm, maybe he can get 456 on one of these shows!
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
304. IKE
Quoting presslord:

from:www.caller.com
By Denise Malan (Contact)
Sunday, July 26, 2009

A new state (Texas) law will allow police to arrest people who don’t leave town under mandatory evacuation orders.

As it stands, officials cannot compel people to evacuate, only warn that those who stay behind won’t have any emergency services at their disposal. The new law gives county judges and mayors the power to authorize use of “reasonable force” to remove people from the area.

The law, passed this year, takes effect Sept. 1, in the heart of hurricane season in Texas. It also applies to other disasters, such as fires or floods.

Don’t expect police to go door to door arresting people or forcing them from their homes if a hurricane is headed toward Corpus Christi.

“If the hurricane is arriving here, we’re going to be doing the best we can to hunker things down, to make sure we have as many special-needs patients evacuated, to prevent crime and looting,” Corpus Christi Police Cmdr. Mark Schauer said. “We’re going to have a hard enough time preventing crime, let alone arresting people who don’t leave.”

County Judge Loyd Neal agreed that arrests for ignoring orders are unlikely.

“I don’t have a jail big enough to put 20,000 people in,” Neal said. “You have to hope people will use good sense. The majority of people usually do.”


Then what's the sense in passing the law.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
IKE...you've got mail!

:)
Member Since: Posts: Comments:

from:www.caller.com
By Denise Malan (Contact)
Sunday, July 26, 2009

A new state (Texas) law will allow police to arrest people who don’t leave town under mandatory evacuation orders.

As it stands, officials cannot compel people to evacuate, only warn that those who stay behind won’t have any emergency services at their disposal. The new law gives county judges and mayors the power to authorize use of “reasonable force” to remove people from the area.

The law, passed this year, takes effect Sept. 1, in the heart of hurricane season in Texas. It also applies to other disasters, such as fires or floods.

Don’t expect police to go door to door arresting people or forcing them from their homes if a hurricane is headed toward Corpus Christi.

“If the hurricane is arriving here, we’re going to be doing the best we can to hunker things down, to make sure we have as many special-needs patients evacuated, to prevent crime and looting,” Corpus Christi Police Cmdr. Mark Schauer said. “We’re going to have a hard enough time preventing crime, let alone arresting people who don’t leave.”

County Judge Loyd Neal agreed that arrests for ignoring orders are unlikely.

“I don’t have a jail big enough to put 20,000 people in,” Neal said. “You have to hope people will use good sense. The majority of people usually do.”
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting BobinTampa:
Is it safe to give up on 97L now?


Yes, the, "I Survived 97L" t-shirts will be available on EBay shortly. They should be big sellers (since everyone survived).
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Will it amount to anything in the BOC??????
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
298. IKE
Quoting NRAamy:
you're excuse, sonny....

:)

but BAP and Tampa are just about on my bad side...

;)


I'm missing something here which I probably don't need to know anyway.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
you're excuse, sonny....

:)

but BAP and Tampa are just about on my bad side...

;)
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
TO BILL GATES

There Was A Young Maid Who Said Why
Cant I See In My Ear With My Eye
If I Put My Mind To It
I Surely Can Do It
You Never Can Tell Till You Try
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Hurricanes cool the planet. They are heat engines. Attempts by man to weaken them with seeding, surface oils, etc, will just make the oceans overheat, kill the coral and plankton, and thus life as we know it. Ironically, the same bozos on the global warming bandwagon are behind these hurricane mitigation efforts, including Gates. It's foolishly contradictory.

If man suffers too much from hurricanes, the right thing is for man to adapt better to them, rather than change the weather and sea patterns.

The right move is for man to adapt himself...

Nature adapts well to hurricanes. When is the last time you saw a healthy palm tree get destroyed by even a major hurricane? Yet, man keeps building flat sided, pointy cornered houses that collapse in Cat2 winds. Time to take a lesson from the guy who built the dome home in P-cola beach. It survived Ivan, Dennis, Katrina, and Ike. Duh!?
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting NRAamy:
y'all gonna get me in trouble...


I said my bad.
=)
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
293. IKE
Quoting dearmas:
Ok leaving on Saturday on a 5 day cruise to Cayman islands and Mexico, anyone see any weather issues to be worried about???? Please no


No, for now.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
y'all gonna get me in trouble...
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
"Please don't bury me
Down in the cold cold ground
I'd rather have 'em cut me up
And pass me all around
Throw my brain in a hurricane
The blind can have my eyes
The deaf can take both of my ears
If they don't mind the size."


J. Prine
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting NRAamy:
I will go with F

i asked you guys not to say that....


I just chose it since it was the next letter, my bad.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Many are spoiled by all the active years in the last 15 yrs or so.If iam correct only 8 seasons since the early 1950's have started later then 8/1. That dust forcast looks horrible.
Member Since: May 14, 2006 Posts: 8 Comments: 13626
Quoting TampaSpin:


I knew she would see that.....hehehe


so did I lol
Quoting NRAamy:
I will go with F

i asked you guys not to say that....


I knew she would see that.....hehehe
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 178 Comments: 20439
I will go with F

i asked you guys not to say that....
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting BurnedAfterPosting:


Which would you put your money on?

LOL we could do a poll for this lol

Which of these 4 areas will bring us Ana?

A) Convection in GOM
B) Wave in Central Caribbean
C) Wave in Central Atlantic
D) Wave in Eastern Atlantic
E) None of the Above


something tells me there be a lot of E though lol

I'll take F ,stop making these stupid polls.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting dearmas:
Ok leaving on Saturday on a 5 day cruise to Cayman islands and Mexico, anyone see any weather issues to be worried about???? Please no


Nope enjoy your cruise.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
I picked "E", but I'm never right, so...
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting BurnedAfterPosting:
they forecast 6 storms, its based off the UKMET, which is by far the most conservative of all the major forecast models.


I have not seen any models forecast zero storms so if for some strange reason that did happen I'd love to hear the analysis of that.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Ok leaving on Saturday on a 5 day cruise to Cayman islands and Mexico, anyone see any weather issues to be worried about???? Please no
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting BurnedAfterPosting:
I think everyone with the exception of a few will pick E

I do wonder though, if we would have already had 1 or 2 named storms this season, how those answers would differ

I think they would somewhat.


I would still pick E
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Beat me to it TS lol


I will go with F

F) Not enough information to go on

lol
You all are really surprising me tho.....not a single taker of anything.....Hum...
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 178 Comments: 20439
Quoting BurnedAfterPosting:


Which would you put your money on?

LOL we could do a poll for this lol

Which of these 4 areas will bring us Ana?

A) Convection in GOM
B) Wave in Central Caribbean
C) Wave in Central Atlantic
D) Wave in Eastern Atlantic
E) None of the Above


something tells me there be a lot of E though lol


I'm taking the 5th since i made the suggestion...yes i am laughing...
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 178 Comments: 20439
Which of these 4 areas will bring us Ana?

A) Convection in GOM
B) Wave in Central Caribbean
C) Wave in Central Atlantic
D) Wave in Eastern Atlantic
E) None of the Above


Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
I think everyone with the exception of a few will pick E

I do wonder though, if we would have already had 1 or 2 named storms this season, how those answers would differ

I think they would somewhat.
I'll take an 'E' for 100.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
A belated thanks Dr. Masters for today's blog.

To a much earlier post:

10. Cochise111 3:02 PM GMT on July 27,2009
"All Bill Gates would have to do to stop malaria is bring back DDT..."


In the early 60's and 70's there were only 7 nesting pairs of the magnificent Brown Pelican in the Coastal Bend area of the Texas Gulf. The culprit ... DDT (and its metabolite, DDE) which softened the birds shells and made them unhatchable. They have recovered from this man-made disaster. I suggest that Bill Gates' efforts to find an alternative solution to the World malaria problem is commendable.

His weather modification venture may well be fruitless but let the science debunk that. Bill Gates is as equally as vulnerable to "Snake-Oil" salespersons of all varieties as the rest of us. He won't waste too many of his money-bags before he finds out the truth!
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
270. IKE
I'll go with "E".
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting BurnedAfterPosting:


Which would you put your money on?

LOL we could do a poll for this lol

Which of these 4 areas will bring us Ana?

A) Convection in GOM
B) Wave in Central Caribbean
C) Wave in Central Atlantic
D) Wave in Eastern Atlantic
E) None of the Above


something tells me there be a lot of E though lol


E
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
No mention of the BoC disturbance in the 2PMs, huh?

Another naked swirl, I guess.
Member Since: August 26, 2006 Posts: 10 Comments: 3617
The SAL forecast shown unfavorable dust off the Africa coast for the next 5 days as the African dust lows advect off the continent.
Link
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting TampaSpin:


100% the Bermuda and Azores High is looking very bad for August for the ConUs


Agree; Dr. M has usually talked about the "set" pattern of the A-B highs for the Summer by this time, but, we are "here" now and the current setup does not bode well for Florida and the East Coast IMHO, should we get any CV storms this season that have a trajectory which takes them just to the NE of the Greater Antilles and up into the Southern Bahamas....
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting BurnedAfterPosting:
THIS TROUGH WILL LIKELY BE ANALYZED AS A TROPICAL WAVE ONCE ADDITIONAL DATA SUGGESTS ITS PRESENCE AS A TROPICAL WAVE.


Interesting.

It barks like a dog, looks like a dog...but more data required to make sure it is a dog.
Member Since: August 26, 2006 Posts: 10 Comments: 3617
Quoting TampaSpin:
Most active so far with 4 areas of interest that needs watched over the next few days..in no order but from W to E.....1)BOC in the GOM 2)Central Caribbean at 15N 67W 3)Central Atl. 10N 42W 4)Eastern Atl. 10N 20W....Anyone of these could become our first Named Storm.....Time will tell but, its coming from 1 of these 4 areas of interest!


Which would you put your money on?

LOL we could do a poll for this lol

Which of these 4 areas will bring us Ana?

A) Convection in GOM
B) Wave in Central Caribbean
C) Wave in Central Atlantic
D) Wave in Eastern Atlantic
E) None of the Above


something tells me there be a lot of E though lol
Most active so far with 4 areas of interest that needs watched over the next few days..in no order but from W to E.....1)BOC in the GOM 2)Central Caribbean at 15N 67W 3)Central Atl. 10N 42W 4)Eastern Atl. 10N 20W....Anyone of these could become our first Named Storm.....Time will tell but, its coming from 1 of these 4 areas of interest!
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 178 Comments: 20439

Viewing: 313 - 263

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

Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.