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 TexasHurricane:
Looks like things may be changing soon in the tropics....

Link

AWESOME!!! Makes me cry tears of joy! :)
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1612. 10Speed
Sorry ... duplicate!


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1611. 10Speed
Quoting TexasHurricane:
Hurricane Wilma


Hurricane Jeanne

Hurricane Frances



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58 of 183 days completed.
31.6% of hurricane season completed
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any baseball fans see what beuhrle did? retired 44 batters in a row before giving up his first hit... jeeeeez
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The 2nd 3rd of the season is starting
And the season long calm ain't parting
I promised to pause
But hey, I'm the Oz!
So I'll just sit here and rhyme as I'm _arting.
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Quoting GeoffreyWPB:
Wilma Radar Link...


HEY thats me!In Boca Raton and that is my avatar picture too lol!
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1606. SLU


enjoy the quiet period without complaints cuz you may just get more than you bargained for pretty soon.
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1604. JustWx
Quoting IKE:


"You call?"


I was just wondering....if all of the GW/CC changes are implemented...and all of the carbon reductions take place...wouldn't that cure the Earth's fever. So, Bill Gates and his coolwater boats would not be needed. The oceans would cool as we turn back the "warming". This would in fact kill the tropics...Right?
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We must stop the ryhmes
As we are running out of time
Before I spend my very last dime
to prepare for what will be mine
And that won't be fine
Cause It'll cause me to dine
One can at a time
And my tree without limes
Flew far behindhink the wind blew
Into the windows
Of the 5 and dime
Oh that little storm
It just blew my mind
Now I can't find
My street sign
I think the wind blew it
Far into time
I'm complaining to my wife
Who usually always shines
Now our home
We can't find
My whole entire life
Thinks it is on rewind
Oh that little storm
Without a spine
It kicked me hard
In the behind
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What I found amazing in Ike, among the many things was the cargo ship that rode the storm due to dead engines(that was Ike right?) and the crew all survived.

The engineers and building company should be proud, of the structure at least.
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Blog Update
Reflector site for those at work, which includes Weather456, daily update.


AOI

AOI
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Still can't believe how much of the Gulf Ike took up...

Link
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i have noted that the WunderPoll is fixs
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1598. Skyepony (Mod)
DHAKA, Bangladesh (July 28, 2009)—Deadly flooding produced by the heaviest rain to fall in the capital city of Bangladesh in a half-century has stranded thousands in their homes.

Thirteen inches of rain fell in just 12 hours, the most in a single day since 1956, the national weather office said.

Power lines snapped, killing at least six people.

Schools in flooded areas were closed.
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Ah, she was. That link from Texashurricane shows a (sorry) rather beautiful formation, no?
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1596. Greyelf
Quoting NRAamy:
can someone draw a bullseye on that photo, please?


A "Stoopid" circle would work too.
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Wilma Radar Link...

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Hurricane Wilma
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Just look at these invests,
It doesn't make any sense,
They aren't doing any better
Than my investments.
2009 is such a bad year,
Well, I'm off again,
To drink some more beer.
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1592. amd
Quoting bajelayman2:
Was Wilma also quite wide, or am I thinking of another?


Wilma became a very wide storm after leaving Florida, I think.
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Yeah, Wilma (2005) was enormous. I believe it was technically the strongest Atlantic hurricane on record with an estimated pressure of 882 and also had something like a 2 mile wide eye at one point which was the smallest on record before widening to nearly 40 miles across.
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Quoting hurricanefiend85:


I always remember Wilma, going from a 60kt Tropical Storm to a 160kt Cat 5 monster in 24 hours...


yeah, I also remeber seeing something the other day about a storm that formed in the Gulf (years ago) and reached cat 5 status.... The Gulf is not that much room considering the Atlantic. Just shows you never know how quick and strong they will grow....Always keep an eye on the tropics....
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Was Wilma also quite wide, or am I thinking of another?
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Quoting TexasHurricane:


Could be....may be nothing now and pretty soon we may hearing evacuation notices.....wonder who will get them??


I always remember Wilma, going from a 60kt Tropical Storm to a 160kt Cat 5 monster in 24 hours...
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1587. Ossqss
The poems abound
with no cyclones around
We all look right in
while scratching our chin
What do we see?
Is that poem from me?
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Quoting bajelayman2:
Based on local weather, and the fact that wind shear and dry air are still around but expected to reduce somewhat, I'd say things will pick up by mid-August and get good and regular after that.

I would not make any predictions, but to say that things may be worse this year than many expect.


Could be....may be nothing now and pretty soon we may hearing evacuation notices.....wonder who will get them??
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Based on local weather, and the fact that wind shear and dry air are still around but expected to reduce somewhat, I'd say things will pick up by mid-August and get good and regular after that.

I would not make any predictions, but to say that things may be worse this year than many expect.
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Quoting GeoffreyWPB:
Just a joke Oz...that's pretty good how you can come up with those so quick!


No! Don't be apologetic! :)

My wife's been reading my work as I've cranked it out. Yours evoked a hardy laugh from her. Mine just drew smiles.

Tough rhyming scheme you chose! WTG! :)
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Quoting GeoffreyWPB:
There is a blogger named Oz
Who cares a lot for the cause
When no storms transpired
His hopes had expired
So he put his poems on pause
:)


LOL...and yes! I have paused! :D
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Just a joke Oz...that's pretty good how you can come up with those so quick!
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Looks like things may be changing soon in the tropics....

Link
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There is a blogger named Oz
Who cares a lot for the cause
When no storms transpired
His hopes had expired
So he put his poems on pause
:)
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Discussions abound, the same views
On forecast conditions, it's old news
The tropics are dead
So let's put this to bed
'Dees rhymes 'dey be causin' the blues
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Quoting stormsurge39:
Hey sheri, Have you been in any real storms? technically i live in semmes.


Yes i have. Some bad ones at that. How is it out there in Semmes?

Sheri

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Quoting Orcasystems:
OK.. this isn't even close to funny anymore :(



man when you see canada in the 100's you know somethings up..

and here in central GA sitting at 76 degrees.. 16 degrees below normal today. humidity is only at 79% also. average is around the low 80's
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TROPICAL WEATHER DISCUSSION
NWS TPC/NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL
805 PM EDT TUE JUL 28 2009

...TROPICAL WAVES...

A TROPICAL WAVE IS TRAVERSING THE CAPE VERDE ISLANDS ALONG 23W S
OF 24N MOVING W NEAR 10 KT. THIS WAVE COINCIDES WITH A BROAD
MAXIMUM IN DEEP LAYER MOISTURE BASED ON THE TOTAL PRECIPITABLE
WATER PRODUCT FROM CIMSS. SCATTERED SHOWERS ARE WITHIN 120 NM OF
THE WAVE AXIS. AN UNRELATED 1011 MB LOW HAPPENS TO BE W OF THE
WAVE AXIS NEAR 16N28W IN A VERY DRY AIRMASS. NO SIGNIFICANT
CONVECTION OR SHOWERS ARE ASSOCIATED WITH THIS LOW.

A TROPICAL WAVE IS ALONG 51W S OF 17N MOVING W 15-20 KT. THIS
WAVE COINCIDES WITH A BROAD MAXIMUM IN DEEP LAYER MOISTURE BASED
ON THE TOTAL PRECIPITABLE WATER PRODUCT FROM CIMSS. ALSO...
RECENT SATELLITE IMAGERY INDICATES CYCLONIC TURNING OF LOW LEVEL
CLOUDS NEAR THIS WAVE. SCATTERED SHOWERS ARE WITHIN 120 NM OF
THE AXIS.

A TROPICAL WAVE IS ALONG 78W S OF 19N MOVING W NEAR 25 KT. THIS
WAVE COINCIDES WITH A WELL-DEFINED MAXIMUM IN DEEP LAYER
MOISTURE BASED ON THE TOTAL PRECIPITABLE WATER PRODUCT FROM
CIMSS. VISIBLE SATELLITE IMAGERY INDICATES AN INVERTED-V PATTERN
OF LOW LEVEL CLOUDS. STABLE ATMOSPHERIC CONDITIONS ASSOCIATED
WITH AN UPPER LEVEL RIDGE ARE INHIBITING DEEP CONVECTION NEAR
THIS WAVE. HOWEVER...SCATTERED SHOWERS ARE W OF JAMAICA FROM
18N-20N BETWEEN 76W-80W
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Canarys will die in a mine
And dogs howl when things aren't so fine
But when it comes to TCs
The warning's a breeze
On steroids, and oh so unkind.
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1571. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
Quoting Orcasystems:
OK.. this isn't even close to funny anymore :(

looks like orca burgers for everyone
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 171 Comments: 53827
Technology is such a great thing
From space, our imagery is like bling
We can see to tomorrow
And that causes us sorrow
No storms means no fun and no fling!
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Dry air...it sucks out the life
Of waves that might cause us great strife
They look good off the land
But quickly turn bland
And that puts a smile on my wife! :)
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Quoting Stoopid1:


Wow... only 25% humidity?? You're lucky man.


Ummm did you see the other number???
This is Victoria BC.. not Death Valley.
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it get's better and better
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Quoting Orcasystems:
OK.. this isn't even close to funny anymore :(



Wow... only 25% humidity?? You're lucky man.
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AOI

AOI
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1563. aquak9
a little local action



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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.