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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1663. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)


here is current sst maps for alt.basin as of jul 27 00z
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Sounds like a great trip you had Kman...could you see Russia from the ship? In all seriousness, I would love to take a cruise like that!
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1661. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
hope ya dont catch a cold from changing climates so quickly
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I also feel there is a realistic chance we see a Category 5 hurricane this season, due to how hot the waters on in some areas
Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
evening kman


Hi there KOTG.

After the cool temps in Alaska I am having to adjust to being home again !
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Quoting WeatherStudent:
Kman, how exactly extremely hot are TCHP readings currently around your neck of woods?


I have not checked but the sea is like a hot tub here.
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Quoting BurnedAfterPosting:


I dont like it either, I am glad you are being realistic. All this built up energy will be released over the next three months. I look at 1955 as a season that we could see happen.

First actual storm formed July 31st, last one dissipated October 19th. The season had 11 named storms (I dont count Alice, since it formed in 1954), 9 Hurricanes and 6 Major Hurricanes. US was hit by 5 storms; 2 in the Gulf and 3 Hurricanes on the East Coast. The Caribbean was hit by 3 storms as well.

I think that season could be very close to what we have now, but a few less Majors (4 instead of 6) and maybe 1 or 2 less storms. Those storms come off the beginning as our first named storm could occur around August 10th.


My thoughts as well. This is supposed to be our rainy season but for July I have only seen 2.05 inches on the SW side of Grand Cayman. The most for the rest of the Island is about 2.5 inches. Hot, dry and dusty when we should be having torrential rain. The Caribbean has had little if any TWave activity which will drive up water temps. I hate to say it but 2004 was just like this and then all hell broke loose.

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1656. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
evening kman
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Quoting BurnedAfterPosting:


I dont like it either, I am glad you are being realistic. All this built up energy will be released over the next two months. I look at 1955 as a season that we could see happen.

First actual storm formed July 31st, last one dissipated October 19th. The season had 11 named storms (I dont count Alice, since it formed in 1954), 9 Hurricanes and 6 Major Hurricanes. US was hit by 5 storms; 2 in the Gulf and 3 Hurricanes on the East Coast. The Caribbean was hit by 3 storms as well.

I think that season could be very close to what we have now, but a few less Majors (4 instead of 6) and maybe 1 or 2 less storms. Those storms come off the beginning as our first named storm could occur around August 10th.


and if you think about it we also had the early stirrings in the atlantic with 90L and TD-01
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1653. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
Quoting WeatherStudent:


Would either one of the four major canes that you just mentioned right now KMan be any land threaters?
no one can tell that its in the hands of nature and its forces which will dictade where it goes
there are clues but no for sure thing
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Quoting kmanislander:


Hi there.

Any space under that tree ?? LOL

This season is similar IMO to others that started slow, ended soon, and had very intense activity condensed into a few weeks.

Water temps will be high as well as the TCHP due to the lack of upwelling from non-existent systems as well as trade winds that have slowed.

I don't like it.


I dont like it either, I am glad you are being realistic. All this built up energy will be released over the next three months. I look at 1955 as a season that we could see happen.

First actual storm formed July 31st, last one dissipated October 19th. The season had 10 named storms and 2 unnamed storms for 12 total (I dont count Alice, since it formed in 1954), 9 Hurricanes and 6 Major Hurricanes. US was hit by 5 storms; 2 in the Gulf (Brenda and TS #5) and 3 Hurricanes on the East Coast (Connie, Diane and Ione). The Caribbean was hit by 3 storms as well.(Hilda, Katie and Janet.) While Mexico was hit by Gladys.

I think that season could be very close to what we have now, but a few less Majors (4 instead of 6) and maybe 1 or 2 less storms. Those storms come off the beginning as our first named storm could occur around August 10th.
1650. surfmom
Quoting Orcasystems:


Cold wind??? gimme


are you HOT AIR??? *giggle* By the looks of your bizarre temps....up in your neighborhood (CANADA 101 DEGREES) --maybe you're the culprit?
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Read my Camille and Ike posts again, if you choose.

I never mocked the dead.

My rhymes were nothing more than factual.

You've read things into them that are not there...and are blaming me for saying things I didn't say.

You tell me what Gulfport looked like after Camille. And how disliked was Hurricane Ike?
Member Since: August 26, 2006 Posts: 10 Comments: 3620
1648. surfmom
I don't like it either Kman.... GOM by me is 90... a pleasure not to have to wear a wetsuit... but it's just waiting for a flashpoint
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Quoting WeatherStudent:


Would either one of the four major canes that you just mentioned right now KMan be any land threaters?


I try to stay away from " predicting " where systems will landfall but obviously anything entering the Caribbean this year has a very good chance of becoming a major and with all the troughs we have seen recurvature would favour a threat to places like the central Caribbean and the East coast IMO.

Time will tell
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Quoting surfmom:

I just felt a cooooooooling wind -- you have such a chilling presence ; )


Cold wind??? gimme
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1645. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
the living should
respect the dead.
for one day the living
will be the dead
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1644. surfmom
Quoting GeoffreyWPB:
Hi Surfmom...haven't seen you on lately...How are you and the family doing?

Enjoying summer- Youngbuck playing polo in kentucky, diver -working Tampa Bay - me --quietly looking for waves.
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1643. hydrus
There once was hurricane named charley,who made of all our trees very knarley,it only lasted an hour,but hit with catagory four power,and all that was left was my harley.
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Quoting surfmom:

I'll sit under this tree
Good to see you Kman


Hi there.

Any space under that tree ?? LOL

This season is similar IMO to others that started slow, ended soon, and had very intense activity condensed into a few weeks.

Water temps will be high as well as the TCHP due to the lack of upwelling from non-existent systems as well as trade winds that have slowed.

I don't like it.
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1641. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
later pat
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1640. surfmom
Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
kinda like a romper room in here

I just felt a cooooooooling wind -- you have such a chilling presence ; )
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1639. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
kinda like a romper room in here
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1637. Patrap
..G'night
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Hi Surfmom...haven't seen you on lately...How are you and the family doing?
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Quoting TampaSpin:


Thats insane if you understand baseball...wow


yeah, new record
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1634. Patrap
As they mock the past,..it waits.
As they recount with Humor,it stays silent.

Those that were lost,havent a voice,
Those that are gone,havent their choice.

Forever silent,..forever mourned,



Lost to the Hurricane,..they stay silent.

Now your warned.
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Love that song Pat
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1632. surfmom
Quoting kmanislander:


My take on this season is 9 systems, possibly 4 majors in the 11 week period from August 1st to 21st October and then for the season to shut down.

I'll sit under this tree
Good to see you Kman
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I agree with Pat, at first they were clever, but the poems are getting really old now
Quoting VAbeachhurricanes:
any baseball fans see what beuhrle did? retired 44 batters in a row before giving up his first hit... jeeeeez


Thats insane if you understand baseball...wow
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 178 Comments: 20439
Quoting Patrap:
Throwing limericks around like they were TWC Storm Stories brings back alot of grief for many who lost family to the Storms so lamented in narrative prose.

Easy to do when youve never had to corral the dead,..or leave them behind to go find the living.

Food for thought


Understood...but there is a flip side.

For example, under your constraints, is this an appropriate rhyme?:

Well, in eighteen-fourteen we took a little trip
Along with Colonel Jackson down the mighty Mississip
We took a little bacon and we took a little beans
And we caught the bloody British at the town of New Orleans.

[Chorus]
We fired our guns and the British kept a-comin'
There wasn't nigh as many as there was a while ago
We fired once more and they all began a-runnin'
Down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico

Well we eye-balled the river and we see the Limeys come
Musta been a hunnert of 'em beatin' on a drum
And then they stepped so high and they made the bugles ring
We hid behind our cotton bales and didn't say a thing

[Chorus]
We fired our guns and the British kept a-comin'
There wasn't nigh as many as there was a while ago
We fired once more and they all began a-runnin'
Down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico

Now, Old Hickory says we can take 'em by surprise
If we don't shoot our wads 'til we look 'em in the eyes
So we held off our fire 'til we see them real well
Then we opened up our squirrel guns and really gave 'em hell

[Chorus]
We fired our guns and the British kept a-comin'
There wasn't nigh as many as there was a while ago
We fired once more and they all began a-runnin'
Down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico

[The chorus (the singers) sings this verse.]
Well, they ran through the briars and they ran through the brambles
And they ran through the bushes where the rabbits couldn't go
Ran so fast that the hounds couldn't catch 'em
Down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico.

[Back to C.W.]
Well, we fired our cannon 'til the barrel melted down
So we grabbed an alligator and we turned his tail around
We stuffed his head with cannon balls and powdered his behind
And when we lit the fuse that old gator blew his mind

[Chorus]
We fired our guns and the British kept a-comin'
There wasn't nigh as many as there was a while ago
We fired once more and they all began a-runnin'
Down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico

[The chorus (the singers) sings this verse.]
Well, they ran through the briars and they ran through the brambles
And they ran through the bushes where the rabbits couldn't go
Ran so fast that the hounds couldn't catch 'em
Down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico.

[Okay, the singing's over.]
Hup, hip, trip, four.
You know, you old boys gonna be marchin' right smart, onced* you learn to count to four.

Member Since: August 26, 2006 Posts: 10 Comments: 3620
I'm getting tired...this my last one...

To the bloggers who are wishcasters
By no means any forecasters
Your posts are demeaning
In no way redeeming
For you wish for ultimate disasters
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Hey! There are some Fine poets in here tonight
But some of them I fear are a blight
When they wishcast a west-track
And say NHC is on crack
They just prove that no one is right.
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1626. Patrap
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Quoting hurricane23:
The inactivity across pacific basin eastern and western has me baffled. SAL still plaquing the atlantic tropics.

Adrian


My take on this season is 9 systems, possibly 4 majors in the 11 week period from August 1st to 21st October and then for the season to shut down.
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@Patrap: +1; lotsa scrolling down I've been doing as late.
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(Singing to "Pop Goes the Weezel")POOF! Goes the Circles.

Link
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My tropical analysis for 8PM
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Quoting CycloneOz:
Now we hope for something named Ana
To come as if it were manna.
To the skies we look
But our heads we all shook
"Hey that wave, did it slip on a banana?"

LOL!!!! Perfect :)
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Now we hope for something named Ana
To come as if it were manna.
To the skies we look
But our heads we all shook
"Hey that wave, did it slip on a banana?"
Member Since: August 26, 2006 Posts: 10 Comments: 3620
The inactivity across pacific basin eastern and western has me baffled. SAL still plaquing the atlantic tropics.

Adrian
Member Since: May 14, 2006 Posts: 8 Comments: 13640
Quoting CycloneOz:
There once was a storm named Camille
That came really close to Mobile.
But as if for the sport
She blew through Gulfport
And left it looking like $*#t on a heel.


There was a young man from Madras
Whose #$%^

Well, on second thought, perhaps not LOL
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1617. Patrap
Throwing limericks around like they were TWC Storm Stories brings back alot of grief for many who lost family to the Storms so lamented in narrative prose.

Easy to do when youve never had to corral the dead,..or leave them behind to go find the living.

Food for thought
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Years later came a 'cane named Ike.
That challenged a seawall, a dike.
The suffering it caused
Made many take pause
'Twas a storm with ease to dislike.
Member Since: August 26, 2006 Posts: 10 Comments: 3620
Quoting wunderkidcayman:

it get's better and better

I'm bewildered and befalled! :o
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There once was a storm named Camille
That came really close to Mobile.
But as if for the sport
She blew through Gulfport
And left it looking like $*#t on a heel.
Member Since: August 26, 2006 Posts: 10 Comments: 3620
Quoting TexasHurricane:
Looks like things may be changing soon in the tropics....

Link

AWESOME!!! Makes me cry tears of joy! :)
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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.