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 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.
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Quoting sebastianflorida:
Hickory hickory dock
there will not be a storm til oct
perhaps it will be a 5
but probably just a lie


Hickory dickory dock
It’s now near 6 o clock
I’m looking here I’m looking there
And can’t find storms anywhere..
I come on here in hopes to find
A swirl that just might blow our minds.


Just thought i would help out
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This is a sad story. Mother Nature has a mean streak!
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Quoting RMM34667:


YEAH.. got the image. Now.. Can someone tell me about the green line.. Seabreeze? and Do you think it will produce thunderstorms?


If you go to the Nexrad radar and look at the 124 nm loop that you will see the thunderstorms that caused that.. I subscribe and get a 40 image loop.. the freebie 6 image loop will no longer show it.

Tampa radar
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Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
we got your weather and you got ours nice little flip i would say


I am not made for this kind of weather... trade?
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1507. Patrap
LPStormspotter



Its the NOLA NWS Slidell sport




and your "Vary" wrong to go there..with that kinda slander.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 414 Comments: 125422
1506. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
we got your weather and you got ours nice little flip i would say
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Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
a little warm there big fish may have to put ya on some ice


I believe the proper term for the weather here would be.... Hotter then H E Double Hockey Sticks
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Quoting Patrap:
"AGW" ...say it aint so..


LOL


lol Don't lol me for this but, what is "AGW"?

is it anthropogeneic Global Warming or AGlobal-warming.

A- prefix means Not or without.



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AOI

AOI
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Incredible amounts of dry air across the Atlantic basin. I'm expecting one or more of the current waves will have to sacrifice themselves to moisten the place... 13N/50W, I'm looking at YOU. If not that one, then 10N/32W.

There are certain individuals on this blog who seem to be here for the sole purpose of jumping down other people's throats and taking their posts to mean something they did not. That's pretty sad, but just to head them off at the pass, let it be clear that I do not think we'll have more than half the number of storms that we had in 2005. But the dry air and dust from that year were pretty intense, and I see that aspect of '05 as an analog for this year. The waves that became Irene and Kat***a suffered through dust, and Irene probably dissipated one night from the dryness before regenerating. Waves remained waves across much of the Atlantic but exploded once they found favorable conditions.
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Quoting Patrap:
More good news Ike..

NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE NEW ORLEANS LA
347 PM CDT TUE JUL 28 2009

.SHORT TERM...
STORMS TODAY WERE QUITE ATYPICAL WITH LITTLE INFLUENCE FROM GULF
BREEZE AND MORE SYNOPTICALLY DRIVEN FROM A MESOCYCLONIC CONVECTIVE
VORTEX THAT DROPPED INTO THE BASE OF A LONG WAVE TROUGH THAT HAS
BEEN PERSISTENT OVER THE REGION. THIS PARTICULAR FEATURE GENERATED
EXTENSIVE HEAVY RAINFALL IN THE ARKLATEX LAST NIGHT WITH P.W.
LEVELS RUNNING ABOUT 2 STANDARD DEVIATIONS HIGHER THAN NORMAL FOR
THIS DATE. A GROWING CONCERN IS A DEVELOPING EAST-WEST ORIENTED
BOUNDARY THAT IS CURRENTLY EXTENDING FROM LIBERTY MS TO ABOUT
SIMMESPORT. THIS MAY BECOME A NEW FOCUS FOR EXTENSIVE TRAINING
ECHO RAINFALL FOR THE NEXT 2-4 HOURS BUT THE LIFT MECHANISM SHOULD
BE EJECTING EASTWARD AND LIMIT THE DURATION SOMEWHAT. DEBATED OVER
THE ISSUANCE OF A FLOOD WATCH FOR PORTIONS OF THE AREA BUT OPTED
TO HOLD OFF BUT CONTINUAL MONITORING WILL BE WARRANTED ALONG THIS
LINE THIS EVENING. MODELS SHOW THE AIRMASS BECOMING FLUSHED OF THE
HIGHER P.W. AIR SO RAIN CHANCES LOWERED TO 50 PERCENT FOR
WEDNESDAY. BROAD SCALE TROUGHING OVER THE CENTRAL U.S. WITH THE
BASE JUST NORTH OF THE FORECAST AREA WILL CREATE SITUATIONS
CONDUCIVE FOR WEAK DISTURBANCES TO GRAZE THE FORECAST AREA IN
UPCOMING DAYS BUT TIMING SUCH FEATURES WILL BE A CHALLENGE. WHILE
SURFACE BASED BERMUDA RIDGE FLOW ATTEMPTS TO BECOME STEADY
STATE...THERE MAY BE JUST ENOUGH PERTURBATIONS IN THE UPPER
PATTERN TO CAUSE DAY-TO-DAY VARIABILITY IN CONVECTIVE
MODES...EITHER GULF BREEZE DOMINATED OR CONTINENTAL NORTWEST FLOW
DISTURBANCE GENERATED OR COMBINATION OF THE TWO.

.LONG TERM...
THE SHORT TERM FORECAST SHOULD PERSIST INTO THE LONG TERM PERIOD
THOUGH MODELS ARE TRYING TO RESOLVE UNSEASONABLE LONG WAVE
TROUGHING THAT MAY USHER ANOTHER OUT OF SEASON COLD FRONT INTO THE
GULF STATES BY EARLY NEXT WEEK. AT THIS TIME WILL MAINTAIN NEAR
NORMAL DAILY RAIN CHANCES AND TEMPERATURES EACH DAY FRIDAY THROUGH
TUESDAY.


no way that came from NWS..lol
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1500. Patrap
"AGW" ...say it aint so..


LOL

..also Alaska has experienced its warmest July in a long time,300,000 acre wildfire there now.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 414 Comments: 125422
1499. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
Quoting Orcasystems:
a little warm there big fish may have to put ya on some ice
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1498. K8eCane
i dont see a darn thing wrong with a little tropical poetry

anna anna
wherefore art though anna?
east coast, gulf
or in the carolannas?
Member Since: April 26, 2006 Posts: 5 Comments: 3040
Quoting Funkadelic:
Wouldnt it stink to live in west africa??!! all they get is wave after wave lol and no one says any thing about "poor old africa" Oh well life goes on I suppose...



a wave is like a afternoon thunderstorms and is one of the main contributors to the rainy season. I've been over there and it isnt bad....
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1496. Patrap
More good news Ike..




595
fxus64 klix 282047
afdlix


Area forecast discussion
National Weather Service New Orleans la
347 PM CDT Tuesday Jul 28 2009


Short term...
storms today were quite atypical with little influence from Gulf
Breeze and more synoptically driven from a mesocyclonic convective
vortex that dropped into the base of a long wave trough that has
been persistent over the region. This particular feature generated
extensive heavy rainfall in the arklatex last night with p.W.
Levels running about 2 Standard deviations higher than normal for
this date. A growing concern is a developing east-west oriented
boundary that is currently extending from Liberty MS to about
Simmesport. This may become a new focus for extensive training
echo rainfall for the next 2-4 hours but the lift mechanism should
be ejecting eastward and limit the duration somewhat. Debated over
the issuance of a Flood Watch for portions of the area but opted
to hold off but continual monitoring will be warranted along this
line this evening. Models show the airmass becoming flushed of the
higher p.W. Air so rain chances lowered to 50 percent for
Wednesday. Broad scale troughing over the central U.S. With the
base just north of the forecast area will create situations
conducive for weak disturbances to graze the forecast area in
upcoming days but timing such features will be a challenge. While
surface based Bermuda ridge flow attempts to become steady
state...there may be just enough perturbations in the upper
pattern to cause day-to-day variability in convective
modes...either Gulf Breeze dominated or Continental nortwest flow
disturbance generated or combination of the two.


Long term...
the short term forecast should persist into the long term period
though models are trying to resolve unseasonable long wave
troughing that may usher another out of season cold front into the
Gulf states by early next week. At this time will maintain near
normal daily rain chances and temperatures each day Friday through
Tuesday.

Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 414 Comments: 125422
Quoting Funkadelic:
Wouldnt it stink to live in west africa??!! all they get is wave after wave lol and no one says any thing about "poor old africa" Oh well life goes on I suppose...
...Umm, I think weather in west Africa is pretty low on the list of reasons why it might be, how should I say, a less than ideal place to live...
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The ACE for 1914 was three.
Member Since: October 18, 2005 Posts: 4 Comments: 3052
1491. Boomdog
Quoting rwdobson:
@1436 typically, a line like this on radar is the outflow boundary from nearby thunderstorms...do the sea breeze fronts even show up on radar?
Yes if you use velocity scan on TDWR radar it is even easier to see
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1490. Patrap
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 414 Comments: 125422
Quoting Drakoen:
Another Saharan dust low will advect off the coast of Africa on Friday.

What is that?
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1488. Patrap
Well..I tried to be Educator this aft and wow..LOL

Tough crowd.

Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 414 Comments: 125422
1487. Drakoen
Dust, Dust and more Dust
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1486. IKE
18Z GFS keeps the wave at 50W as a wave through the western Caribbean. Maybe it will make invest status and start some good arguments.
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1485. Drakoen
Another Saharan dust low will advect off the coast of Africa on Friday.
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In 1492,
Columbus sailed the ocean blue.
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Quoting Patrap:
Like I said FM,,read up on the matter,..you'll be surprised what you'll learn on that matter.
The British,Spanish,and French had a great Knowledge of the Tropical Atlantic,..from data recorded,or leraned from the Native tounges they encountered.

Really a good project to delve into.


They probably did. The ancients knew a lot. Archimedes is a great example.

Again, the technology probably limited from detecting every storm.
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1481. Patrap
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 never said that sport,..

What I said was what I said.

Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 414 Comments: 125422
1480. IKE
BREAKING NEWS!

ESPN...Brett Favre retires!
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1479. Patrap
Like I said FM,,read up on the matter,..you'll be surprised what you'll learn on that matter.
The British,Spanish,and French had a great Knowledge of the Tropical Atlantic,..from data recorded,or leraned from the Native tounges they encountered.

Really a good project to delve into.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 414 Comments: 125422
Quoting Patrap:
.I doubt it. Keep in mind that technology was really insignificant back then; airplanes were just created 11 years before 1914. Most these storms probably went unreported or were never detected

Way before airplanes..there were these things called ships,that crossed the Atlantic starting around 1592,..and they kept meticulous records of weather in the tropics.

Fascinating stuff..you should read up on it




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?
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Quoting 2010hurricane:
8 NS
4 H
1 MH


same as the COAPS model.
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10 tropical storms
5 hurricanes
2 major hurricanes

I think maybe some activity after the season as well. :)
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Quoting Chicklit:

westernafrika


Very Impressive
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Quoting Patrap:
Way before airplanes..there were these things called ships,that crossed the Atlantic starting around 1592,..and they kept meticulous records of weather in the tropics.

Fascinating stuff..you should read up on it.


Yes, Pat I know. However it is still in adequate. Ships cannot be everywhere at once. Cyclones converting into warm core or subtropical storms probably went undetected. Heck, some of the cold core systems may have been mistaken for tropical cyclones.
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8 NS
4 H
1 MH
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I will call my post STUPID! good eve all
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Hickory hickory dock
there will not be a storm til oct
perhaps it will be a 5
but probably just a lie
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Quoting BenBIogger:



1914 only had 1 recorded storm.


Good Point! Maybe I should have said 'The record lowest w/ NAMED storms' :)
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1469. Patrap
.I doubt it. Keep in mind that technology was really insignificant back then; airplanes were just created 11 years before 1914. Most these storms probably went unreported or were never detected

Way before airplanes..there were these things called ships,that crossed the Atlantic starting around 1592,..and they kept meticulous records of weather in the tropics.

Fascinating stuff..you should read up on it
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 414 Comments: 125422
Perhaps Tommorow!
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1467. Boomdog
Quoting RMM34667:


YEAH.. got the image. Now.. Can someone tell me about the green line.. Seabreeze? and Do you think it will produce thunderstorms?
It is either outflow from thunderstorms on the east coast or it is the east coast seabreeze and yes it will probably kick off some thunderstorms. Try looking at it with the velocity scan from the same radar you are using.
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Quoting cyclonekid:

AWESOME GRAPHICS!!!

Can I have the link please?

Link
I just change the 12Z to 18Z or 00Z or 06Z
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1465. Patrap
Well then my day is complete jeff..LOL
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 414 Comments: 125422
Quoting BenBIogger:



1914 only had 1 recorded storm.



I doubt it. Keep in mind that technology was really insignificant back then; airplanes were just created 11 years before 1914. Most these storms probably went unreported or were never detected.
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Quoting Patrap:
That would be the Sun..?

LOL..

Very nice one-liner. I'm impressed. (not that I expected different, though)
Member Since: August 3, 2008 Posts: 16 Comments: 5792

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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.