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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1563. aquak9
a little local action



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

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Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:


pretty dry right now


It is very dry air. This is why I am puzzled why the NAM develops this. The GFS shows it becoming an open inverted trough in the caribbean, which is in harmony with FIM.
Member Since: July 19, 2008 Posts: 43 Comments: 4051
Quoting IKE:


18Z GFS gives hope at 372 hours...

CMC gives hope at 34567 hrs
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These strong thunderstorms that pop up during the day can be exciting.
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Quoting stormpetrol:
Wave around 10/32 seems to firing some convection this evening.By the way, Try and ease Al Gore. I'm not an American, but I'm pro American, if the USA sneezes we catch the cold, regardless of his thoughts on global warming right or wrong, if he had been President for last 8 years I have a feeling we would have been living in better world today with better times, just my personal opinion.


I agree
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1557. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
Quoting futuremet:
NAMMY maybe right, vorticity has been increasing with teh 50w wave.

FIM model shows increasing precipitation over the eastern carib.


pretty dry right now
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Wave around 10/32 seems to firing some convection this evening.By the way, Try and ease Al Gore. I'm not an American, but I'm pro American, if the USA sneezes we catch the cold, regardless of his thoughts on global warming right or wrong, if he had been President for last 8 years I have a feeling we would have been living in better world today with better times, just my personal opinion.
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Hey sheri, Have you been in any real storms? technically i live in semmes.
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Quoting stormsurge39:
I just went thru a storm here in Mobile that felt like a tropical storm.

Yea that was the line I was talking about early in southern MS. It was pretty nasty. Had a few tornado warnings out when it passed by. Good stuff.
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Quoting stormsurge39:
I just went thru a storm here in Mobile that felt like a tropical storm.


I know how ya feel I am out here in Satsuma and it's been storming really bad and the wind howling.

Sheri
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My respects for Al Gore, for sure ! A great humanitarian. His negative points, haven't safed the US and the world from the worst years in recent history.
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I just went thru a storm here in Mobile that felt like a tropical storm.
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NAMMY maybe right, vorticity has been increasing with teh 50w wave.

FIM model shows increasing precipitation over the eastern carib.
Member Since: July 19, 2008 Posts: 43 Comments: 4051
There once was a hurricane bug
who landed on dear old Doug
He climbed up my chest
I thought he stopped to rest
but he only needed a hug.
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Quoting IKE:


18Z GFS gives hope at 372 hours...



It is developing the wave around the CV Islands and hanging onto it for longer now than before. Both do dissipate eventually though.
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1546. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
Quoting IKE:


18Z GFS gives hope at 372 hours...

yeah if your desperate
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1545. NRAamy
hmmm.....I wonder who it was....someone with Pensacola in their name....it was a cool avatar...
Member Since: January 24, 2007 Posts: 316 Comments: 31944
1544. NRAamy
Weather weenies abound
when no storms are to be found
they try to be funny
while dabbing noses that are runny
it's a really disturbing sound
Member Since: January 24, 2007 Posts: 316 Comments: 31944
1543. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
Quoting futuremet:


LOL

but what is the common meaning?

Anthropogenic or Aglobal-warming


HERES THE LIST PICK ONE

Acronym Definition
AGW Anthropogenic Global Warming
AGW Anti-Global Warming
AGW Access Gateway
AGW Atmospheric Gravity Waves
AGW Art Gallery of Windsor (Ontario, Canada)
AGW All Going Well
AGW Accelerated Global Warming
AGW Actual Gold Weight
AGW Application Gateway (telecom)
AGW Alt.Games.Warbirds (forum)
AGW Actual Gross Weight
AGW American Wire Gauge
AGW Automatic Girth Welder
AGW Autonomous Guided Weapon
AGW Allowable Gross Weight
AGW Anganwadi Worker (India)
AGW Accident Generated Water
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1542. IKE
Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
it tells ya one thing there is nothing going on thats for sure


18Z GFS gives hope at 372 hours...

Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
Quoting NRAamy:
Pensacola....didn't your avatar used to be a cow stuffed toy on a dashboard?



Seriously?
Nope not me.
Wife and I is only one I've ever had.
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This hurricane season seems sick
Old Mother nature is playing a trick
But the blogs so much calmma
Without all the drama
come on now let's here your limerick!
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Anxiety and stress on the rise
And the cause is a big surprise!
We need a storm bad
Yet there's none to be had
Oh curses to those 1016 Highs!
Member Since: August 26, 2006 Posts: 10 Comments: 3420
Quoting NRAamy:
"AGW"....Al Gore Wackos....


LOL

but what is the common meaning?

Anthropogenic or Aglobal-warming
Member Since: July 19, 2008 Posts: 43 Comments: 4051
1537. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
Quoting IKE:
Poems that rhyme, on the blogs...

What a life!
it tells ya one thing there is nothing going on thats for sure
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1536. NRAamy
Pensacola....didn't your avatar used to be a cow stuffed toy on a dashboard?
Member Since: January 24, 2007 Posts: 316 Comments: 31944
Quoting NRAamy:
"AGW"....Al Gore Wackos....


AMEN!!! lol
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Al Gore Wacko's!!!


LOL!
I love it!
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Quoting IKE:


"You call?"



Carbon Tax lol

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1532. NRAamy
can someone draw a bullseye on that photo, please?
Member Since: January 24, 2007 Posts: 316 Comments: 31944
1531. IKE
Poems that rhyme, on the blogs...

What a life!
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
When the wind begins to blow
There is one thing we will surely know
It wont be September
but it might be December
And it'll be mixing with snow.
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1529. IKE
Quoting NRAamy:
"AGW"....Al Gore Wackos....


"You call?"

Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
"Prepare" is the word you'll hear
From all who know hurricanes fear.
Don't sit back and wait
For there's a terrible fate
If you've not stocked up on plenty of beer.
Member Since: August 26, 2006 Posts: 10 Comments: 3420
1527. NRAamy
"AGW"....Al Gore Wackos....
Member Since: January 24, 2007 Posts: 316 Comments: 31944
No tropical activity has seemed to cause blog fever.
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Quoting CycloneOz:
If you're likely to gag and languish
Due to lack of hurricane-caused anguish
Then sit and just think
It may be the brink
Of storms that only trouble dang fish.

Were having way to much fun with this..
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Quoting Patrap:
Now you stand corrected.."Plllllllllllllllttttt"



lol Are you talking to me Pat.

"AGW" just confuses me that's all (a reasonable way)
Member Since: July 19, 2008 Posts: 43 Comments: 4051
If you're likely to gag and languish
Due to lack of hurricane-caused anguish
Then sit and just think
It may be the brink
Of storms that only trouble dang fish.
Member Since: August 26, 2006 Posts: 10 Comments: 3420
Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
people are starting to unravel


We are starting to loose our minds..

Come on come on its Hurricane time...
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1511 that green line on radar is starting to form thunderstorms as we speak. right over my house here in z-hills
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1520. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
people are starting to unravel
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Quoting NRAamy:
Hickory dickory dock

who are you...Andrew Dice Clay?


lol
South East of Houston
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Waves seems to be regenerating

I love this shot; it shows us how huge Africa is.

Member Since: July 19, 2008 Posts: 43 Comments: 4051
In terms you'll know with ease.
When it comes to a hurricane breeze.
You'll feel the wrath
If your in the path
Of a bunch of tumbled down trees!
Member Since: August 26, 2006 Posts: 10 Comments: 3420
1516. NRAamy
Hickory dickory dock

who are you...Andrew Dice Clay?
Member Since: January 24, 2007 Posts: 316 Comments: 31944
1515. Patrap
Now you stand corrected.."Plllllllllllllllttttt"

Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 414 Comments: 125552
Quoting Patrap:
LPStormspotter



Its the NOLA NWS Slidell sport




and your "Vary" wrong to go there..with that kinda slander.


LOL i thought you were kidding... LMAO
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Quoting PensacolaDoug:




You make a good point about ships keeping good records. But you don't really believe that every storm was detected back then do ya?


I'm not so sure they were not all detected back then...especially in the Atlantic.

1914 - Airplanes were a brand new technology and the first transatlantic crossing was still many years away. Lots of people though, moving across the Atlantic.

How? By ships of course!

How many ships? Well, if you take into account slave trade...many thousands I would guess.
Member Since: August 26, 2006 Posts: 10 Comments: 3420

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About JeffMasters

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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