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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456, surface analysis shows low pressure on the northern side of the area that came off Africa

Do you agree that it appears the SAL isnt drying out the environment as much as past surges have?
Quoting BurnedAfterPosting:


So why did he get the patent if he wasnt going to try and do this?


You would have to read the whole patent application as it was tied to insurance. The company it was obtained under is basically in the business of obtaining patents.

Link

Their blog entry on it
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Humans interfere with the NAtural cycle already,24/7 365,..but like Dr. MAsters explained,these forces are just too big to corral with a single arressting effort.
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Good Afternoon

Reality of Three African Waves
Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
Quoting CaneWarning:


I don't see how it will alter anything. He can try it once, and see it doesn't work. No harm no foul.


One time wouldnt prove anything though, it would take altering numerous storms to affect the environment

If he finds that it works he will want to alter every storm that comes along. There is your real danger, problem is by then he will be unstoppable
While I respect Bill Gates and his philanthropic efforts, I feel that
interfering with the course of Nature
would cause more problems than it would solve
Hurricanes are the relief valve nature uses to
keep the global environment in balance, and as
much as we would like to reduce their effect, it could cause more damage by altering established weather patterns.
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Quoting RitaEvac:
Lots of people are successful that make over $100,000 a year, thats poor to the millionaires, so they should pay to pay down the national debt period.


That's crazy.
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Quoting BurnedAfterPosting:


This is something that will undoubtedly affect the environment and it wont be in a good way. It isnt something that can just be taken back after the fact. There is no "undo" button when it comes to altering the environment.


I don't see how it will alter anything. He can try it once, and see it doesn't work. No harm no foul.
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Lots of people are successful that make over $100,000 a year, thats poor to the millionaires, so they should pay to pay down the national debt period.
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Quoting CaneWarning:
Bill Gates does a ton of great work through his foundation. He shouldn't be criticized for his success. I don't see anything wrong with him trying this with his own money.


This is something that will undoubtedly affect the environment and it wont be in a good way. It isnt something that can just be taken back after the fact. There is no "undo" button when it comes to altering the environment.
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Quoting IKE:
Wow~



I guess if African waves moved mainly west they could avoid most of the dust, but a more northerly component would be bad for them. At least under current conditions.
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Bill Gates does a ton of great work through his foundation. He shouldn't be criticized for his success. I don't see anything wrong with him trying this with his own money.
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Quoting BayouBorn1965:
How can you tell that something tropical will be brewing during the second week of August? Just curious. Since experiencing Katrina first hand, I have tried to learn as much as possible about predicting hurricanes. It helps with the sick feeling in my stomach during the season. Thank you.


More educated bloggers on here will answer the question better than me, but, typically, we are looking at some sort of model consensus (long term in this case) that something might develop a few weeks out based upon emerging conditions. And even then, it's never a guarantee because of short-term variability in factors such as sheer.......I do not beleive that we have any current models forceasting tropical development two weeks from, so,...errr, it's just a hunch as we start going into the "peak" bell curve from mid-August to mid-September that "something" will probably form (the models may start to develop something in the coming week or so)..
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Quoting sonofagunn:
The criticism of Bill Gates is out of place. He hasn't actually tried to do this, he's just filed for a patent. I don't see any evidence of him ignoring the scale or possible side effects. I haven't seen any evidence of him actually trying to do this.


So why did he get the patent if he wasnt going to try and do this?
Quoting CaneWarning:


Did you see the picture I posted a page or so back? A water spout did in fact touch down near Rocky Point. I got the picture from Bay News 9.


Yeah saw the picture. As soon as I heard about the tornado warning I went up hoping to see something. I was too late!! My office faces east so we were looking at blue skies at the time!
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Quoting Patrap:
Who needs Bill Gates to modify the Weather ?,..shucks..we have blogger's doing that daily here.


lol
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The criticism of Bill Gates is out of place. He hasn't actually tried to do this, he's just filed for a patent. I don't see any evidence of him ignoring the scale or possible side effects. I haven't seen any evidence of him actually trying to do this.
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I completely agree...............

Quoting Chicklit:
Thanks Dr. Masters for the lively discussion!
Um, I think Bill Gates may qualify for the following description:
meg·a·lo·ma·ni·a (mg-l-mn-, -mny)
n.
1. A psychopathological condition characterized by delusional fantasies of wealth, power, or omnipotence.
2. An obsession with grandiose or extravagant things or actions.

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

mega·lo·mani·ac n.
mega·lo·ma·nia·cal (-m-n-kl), mega·lo·manic (-mnk) adj.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

Don't know how many saw this comment on melting ice caps by Canadian astronaut aboard the Endeavor.
Link
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93. IKE
Quoting Patrap:
Who needs Bill Gates to modify the Weather ?,..shucks..we have blogger's doing that daily here.


LOL...so true.
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Quoting RMM34667:


I went up on the roof at Westshore and Kennedy. I've never seen a waterspout live. A couple of times it looked like it was gonna happen, but they never reached the ground.


Did you see the picture I posted a page or so back? A water spout did in fact touch down near Rocky Point. I got the picture from Bay News 9.
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Who needs Bill Gates to modify the Weather ?,..shucks..we have blogger's doing that daily here.
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HAARP

ELF

GWB
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Quoting BayouBorn1965:
How can you tell that something tropical will be brewing during the second week of August? Just curious. Since experiencing Katrina first hand, I have tried to learn as much as possible about predicting hurricanes. It helps with the sick feeling in my stomach during the season. Thank you.


Based on climotalogy, computer models and weather patterns.
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Quoting stillwaiting:



you can see it??!!


Not anymore. I in an office tower.
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How can you tell that something tropical will be brewing during the second week of August? Just curious. Since experiencing Katrina first hand, I have tried to learn as much as possible about predicting hurricanes. It helps with the sick feeling in my stomach during the season. Thank you.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting IKE:
Wow~



Dry Dusty Air
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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."


Ah - would that we could... I think Gates could spend his money in a more practical way... we are far from understanding hurricanes enough to know whether this has a ghost of a chance...
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Quoting stormwatcherCI:
I agree. I think it's best to leave Mother Nature alone ato do her thing. Let him put the money somewhere else it is really needed. Like maybe bringing food and water to places like Africa ,Haiti etc.


Ya know, that $2 + billion could retrofit many homes to make them more survivable...

I'm just saying....
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looking at the water vapor, shows me the newest surge of SAL isnt having as much of an effect on the environment as past surges were. Water Vapor shows plenty of moisture coming off of Africa

The area of low pressure is on the northern part of the CV Islands, and may or may not be related to the area of convection that has come off. The low will follow the ridge and move WSW to SW in the short term.
Quoting CaneWarning:
Tornado warning is cancelled, but I still see a funnel cloud. Not anywhere near the ground though. The storms aren't even severe. Pretty interesting.


I went up on the roof at Westshore and Kennedy. I've never seen a waterspout live. A couple of times it looked like it was gonna happen, but they never reached the ground.
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Shuttle Endeavour to land Friday.




Just checked the forecast from both KSC and EDW, looks alright for a Shuttle landing in Florida but looks great for a landing in California. I think they'll land in Florida, due to it being earlier in the morning at 10:51 AM, before thunderstorms are really able to really get going.
Member Since: July 8, 2005 Posts: 259 Comments: 23870
wow, we are getting a really heavy storm here in Braithwaite, LA right now.
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Quoting CaneWarning:
Tornado warning is cancelled, but I still see a funnel cloud. Not anywhere near the ground though. The storms aren't even severe. Pretty interesting.



you can see it??!!
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Regarding weather modification; until you can explain the incessant spraying in the skies above us and strange cloud formations, I will believe otherwise. I'd still like to know why as huge as Ike was and all the damage that was done clear into the midwest, why Ike's precip hardly showed up on radar in it's trek across the gulf.
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Link
See ya later!
From NHC 8 a.m. Discussion:
A TROPICAL WAVE IS ALONG 64W S OF 19N MOVING W NEAR 25-30 KT. THIS WAVE COINCIDES WITH A WELL-DEFINED MAXIMUM IN DEEP LAYER MOISTURE BASED ON THE TOTAL PRECIPITABLE WATER PRODUCT FROM
CIMSS. INFRARED SATELLITE IMAGERY INDICATES AN INVERTED-V SIGNATURE IN THE COVERAGE OF LOW LEVEL CLOUDS NEAR THIS WAVE ACROSS THE ERN CARIBBEAN. ISOLATED MODERATE CONVECTION AND
SCATTERED SHOWERS ARE OCCURRING FROM 10N-15N BETWEEN 61W-67W.

Member Since: July 11, 2006 Posts: 14 Comments: 11267
I have often wondered if this could explain or be used to help some of our weather items.

Cosmic rays and cloud formation


High Energy Cosmic Rays and the Atmosphere


Influence of Cosmic Rays on Earth's Climate
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Of note concerning this inactive period.

We do have that big H over the CenAtl and there's some steering currents into the GoM.

So I guess that the GoM is open again after being closed. But there are no customers (TCs.)

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Quoting IKE:


My latest is nothing through the 8th of August.

If there's nothing by Aug. 15th, this blog will explode.


Along with an explosive heat supplied mid-to-late August storm when conditions warrant...I hate "late" starting seasons...
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i believe 2nd week in august will be alittle more active
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Quoting Floodman:
24. TampaSpin

If you slow a hurricane down here, you will see the reaction somewhere else; it's all about the system trying to find equilibrium. You can't screw with it without paying the price


Hey Floodman,And everyone else. How ya doing? It's really quit in the tropics so far.

Sheri
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71. IKE
Wow~

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Spending money on better construction methods and technologies would seem a better investment instead on tampering with sea surface temperatures and ocean currents. If one is going to live and work in the path of tropical storms, why not build sturdier and smarter? Is that so difficult?

China and Russia have been diverting major rivers if memory serves me correctly which has possibly caused an alteration of artic ice.

Messing with earth's balance does not seem logical and it definitely does not feel right either. Just a thought.
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There's a World Health Organization (WHO)to protect and inform matters related to protecting the health of world populations.

Is there a World Planetary Organization (WPO) to protect and inform us on matters affecting our planetary health?

Reforesting Haiti is a great idea and would keep him busy for a while!
Member Since: July 11, 2006 Posts: 14 Comments: 11267
Tornado warning is cancelled, but I still see a funnel cloud. Not anywhere near the ground though. The storms aren't even severe. Pretty interesting.
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Quoting NoNamePub:
Floodman....whats UP!

Agree with your point too. Hurricanes release and incredible amount of energy.....if we squash the canes - that energy has to go somewhere!!!!
I agree. I think it's best to leave Mother Nature alone ato do her thing. Let him put the money somewhere else it is really needed. Like maybe bringing food and water to places like Africa ,Haiti etc.
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From Stu Ostro Blog

Can Bill Gates control hurricanes?
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yup surface low with our latest wave that just came off
64. IKE
Quoting BobinTampa:
What's your next prediction Ike? You were taking some grief for saying July would be storm-free, but you were right. When do you think we see the first storm pop up?



My latest is nothing through the 8th of August.

If there's nothing by Aug. 15th, this blog will explode.
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Quoting leftovers:
it would nice to have some control over the bad systems if we can prevent a landfalling cat 4 by downgrading it to a 2 that would help. slick it


i agree that it would be nice. but in reality even if it was successful in "weakening" the storm a catagory...which i dont think it would...you'd still have effects such as rainfall and surge which would be more characteristic of the higher catagory...just like when katrina weakened at landfall, but still brought a cat 5 surge. So in that sence it may actually be more misleading and dangerous...those are my thoughts
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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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