Controlling hurricanes

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 6:09 AM GMT on April 28, 2006

In a talk presented Monday at the 27th annual meeting of the American Meteorological Society's conference on Hurricanes and Tropical Meteorology, Philip Kithil of Atmocean, Inc. presented a radical idea to reduce the intensity of hurricanes approaching the coast: deploy an array of wave-activated deep ocean pumps in front of an approaching storm. These pumps would each be attached to a 1000 meter long, 1.5 meter diameter flexible tube moored to the ocean bottom. Since the water at 1 kilometer depth is up to 15 degrees C cooler than the surface water, these pumps could quickly pump enough cold water to the surface to significantly cool the surface waters. Assuming a typical 2-meter high wave, the pumps, which operate at 30% efficiency, would be able to able to pump enough cold water to the surface in a day or two to cool a 50 meter deep layer by 1 degree C. In a field test conducted near Bermuda last year, Atmocean lowered the surface temperature of ocean water by 4 degrees C using a test pump attached to a 25 cm wide, 160 meter long tube.

Figure 1. Diagram of the deep ocean pump with flexible tube attached proposed by Atmocean to reduce hurricane intensity.

Could such a scheme work? Yes, but you would need a lot of these pumps. Kithil estimated that 6000 of these units would be needed, deployed in a 100 km wide band stretching across the Gulf of Mexico, each pump spaced 50-100 meters apart. The pumps would all be tethered to each other and anchored to the bottom to slow any drift that might occur from ocean currents. The pumps and flexible tubes cost about $2800 each, so we're talking a total cost of $2.4 billion for a single array stretched across the Gulf of Mexico. Additional arrays located off the Florida Atlantic coast and near the Lesser Antilles Islands would cost $2 billion or more, each. The yearly cost of maintenance and operation would be another 20% of the installation cost.

That's a pretty steep price, and makes this scheme a difficult sell. In addition to the major financial issues to overcome, the plan also has serious technical, environmental, political, and legal problems to consider.

Environmental concerns
Kithil acknowledged that an evaluation of the ecological effects of injecting a large amount of cold water to the surface needs to be done. Such a large change to a significant region of the ocean is bound to have major and possibly negative consequences to fisheries and wildlife. Since the pumps can be turned off when there is no hurricane threat, it is possible that these effects will be minimal.

Technical problems
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. The modeling studies Atmocean did do of a Hurricane Ivan case showed a 10 mb increase in pressure when the storm crossed the cold wake, followed by a re-intensification of the storm after it crossed back into warm waters. In some cases, this will be a worthwhile expenditure of money, since such a reduction in storm strength would save billions. However, in other cases, the storm would simply re-intensify and grow even stronger after encountering the cold pool, and nothing would be gained.

Political issues
The array of pumps will lie across some very busy shipping lanes. Companies that operate deep draft vessels such as oil tankers are not going to be too happy about their ships having to take longer and more costly routes around the array. It will take some considerable political clout to convince Congress into authorizing the money for this project.

Legal problems
Another major obstacle to clear will be a legal one. While Mr. Kithil pointed out that none of their numerical model simulations of hurricanes hitting pools of cold water showed the hurricanes changing course, it is inevitable that sooner or later such a course change would occur, since hurricanes naturally make sudden unpredictable course shifts. 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. I asked Dave Moran, Professor of Law at Wayne State University about this this, and he assured me that those suing would have a very good case. Atmocean would have to get special legislation passed to protect it from lawsuits, such as was recently passed to protect the gun industry from lawsuits.

Despite all these negatives, Atmocean appears to be determined to pull this off. They appear to have some venture capital money to work with, which they are applying this year to the twin tasks of doing more computer model simulations and field tests. I wouldn't be surprised if they hire a lobbyist to work the corridors of power in Washington D.C., as well. I am dubious that given all the obstacles involved that they can pull this off, but I wish them luck in their creative effort to do so.

Jeff Masters

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326. Leithauser
3:16 PM GMT on May 03, 2006
How is this for a better idea? Use the heat differential between the upper water and the lower to generate electricity. The simplest way would be with long thermocouples, but that would not be very efficient. A better way would be to find a liquid that boils at a point midway between the upper and lower temperatures, pump it into coils at the top and allow it to drive turbines on the way down. (Of course, this would be easier if the higher temperatures were at the bottom, where gravity would return the liquid to the bottom, but you cannot have everything.) That would reduce the temperature at the surface with less increase in temperature near the bottom (since part of the energy is being converted to electricity), plus the electricity generated would reduce the need to burn fossil fuels, thus reducing global warming and reducing the initial problem in the first place. Plus, since it would be generating electricity, it would partly pay for itself (I don't claim it would be as cost effective as burning fossil fuels, so it would have to be subsidized), reducing the cost of the entire operation.

David Leithauser
Leithauser Research
325. cpeterka
2:43 PM GMT on May 02, 2006
IMHO, I prefer reading comments that contain the Capital I, for first person, not lower case i.

Member Since: September 18, 2003 Posts: 0 Comments: 14
3:51 AM GMT on May 02, 2006
A comment for 'cyclonefake', your quixotic tunnels will never work so please stop talking about them. We can not alter hurricanes so you are wasting your breath discussing meaningless ideas, ever heard of Project Stormfury?

And for 'STORMTOP', ..ladies and gents we are in for a horrible season this will be worse then last year.., this year will indeed be active but even the most educated researchers aren't predicting that 2006 will be worse than 2005. Its either a very bold or ignorant statment, only time will tell but I'm leaning towards the latter.

Whoever had the post earlier on in this topic on the changing shear environment surrounding hurricanes during development and throughout maintaining phases may have hit on something. I'll check to see if anyone has created a climatology of hurricane-related environmental wind shear. Maybe shear surrounding hurricanes is getting weaker; maybe the storms are more able to fight through moderate shear? My thoughts are that shear values are not changing near the storm, but that particular circumstances evolve where shear in certain regions is so relaxed that many systems form over and over again (i.e. 2005 hurricane season).

Until next time, stay classy wunderground.
323. snowboy
6:15 PM GMT on May 01, 2006
yee-haw STORMTOP, good to have you back!
Member Since: September 21, 2005 Posts: 10 Comments: 2556
322. TampaSteve
5:40 PM GMT on May 01, 2006
Whazzup STORMTOP??? We gonna get a few more Cat 5 monsters this year???
321. Skyepony (Mod)
4:52 PM GMT on May 01, 2006
Hee Hee Hee, welcome back STORMTOP.

With what you foresee
I can agree
because my friends
bad things
come in threes.
Member Since: August 10, 2005 Posts: 397 Comments: 43376
320. FLUSA
4:43 PM GMT on May 01, 2006
I am ordering my new windows today.
319. franck
4:35 PM GMT on May 01, 2006
All right ST!!
Member Since: August 30, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 1150
4:24 PM GMT on May 01, 2006
stormtop is back on the air has risen from the dead and as far as im concerned hurricane season starts today...the temperatures are over 80 degrees in the caribbean sea and yucatan channel....storm is working on a few more things this year and as i told you last season i already had a scqale i used for a category 6 hurricane which you guys disagreed with me have to agree now the storms will be more frequent and much stronger and the destruction will be in a much greater overall area....i will be watching the tropics just like i did when i predicted katrina and rita wew going to hit louisiana... la...i will be on as soon as i see something suspicious and give you my full forecast on what i think it will do and the areas it will affect....ladies and gents we are in for a horrible season this will be worse then last predicting increasing activity in the gulf due to la stand by fla miss alabama and louisiana....also the texas coast is due rfor a whopper this year...i will give you my thoughts later on.....STORMTOP IS BACK JEFF MASTERS.........
317. TampaSteve
3:51 PM GMT on May 01, 2006
atmosweather wrote:

I'll never forget Charley's winds. It still had 85-95 mph sustained winds all the way to Orange county because it had rapidly intensified before landfall. And, the radius of maximum winds was only 7-8 miles, so an hour before he hit, the wind was almost calm, then we just got pounded really suddenly with 80-90 mph winds. The eye only lasted about 5 minutes, and then the wind picked up to 90 mph in seconds. Amazing night.

Yeah, Charley was a wild in-laws live in Punta Gorda...they were out of town that Friday, but their friends actually rode out the storm...the winds went from "oh this isn't so bad" to "ohmyfreakinggodweareallgonnadie!" in about 20 minutes. The eye passed right over their house. Wind gusts of 174 mph were recorded in Punta Gorda. Thankfully, there wasn't a high Cat 4 storm surge!
316. rwdobson
3:24 PM GMT on May 01, 2006
Yeah, I understand peak demand...but most utilities don't deal with it by running systems that generate a net loss of power...much of that electricity was being sold on the wholesale market and not necessarily powering Missouri.
Member Since: June 12, 2002 Posts: 0 Comments: 1653
314. rwdobson
3:04 PM GMT on May 01, 2006
MichealSTL--and all that Ameren cheap power, all it cost you was a state park! They were the ones whose faulty dam destroyed Johnson Shut-Ins State Park.

What's more amazing is the nature of the hydro power they were producing there. They were actually LOSING power on balance...they generated power during the day, when demand is higher and so are prices. Then at night, they would pump water back up to re-fill the lake. It was a net loss of electricity, but they made money b/c electricity costs more during the day than at night.
Member Since: June 12, 2002 Posts: 0 Comments: 1653
313. 147257
3:03 PM GMT on May 01, 2006
lucky13 ofcourse it is good to get some people to youre blog but youre posting


and that really sucks
Member Since: August 2, 2005 Posts: 7 Comments: 68
310. 147257
2:02 PM GMT on May 01, 2006
lucky13 stop posting nonense its only lagging the page because we have to load more
Member Since: August 2, 2005 Posts: 7 Comments: 68
308. 147257
12:51 PM GMT on May 01, 2006
cyclonebuster how they want to do that? i mean the moon is moving and is never at the same spot?
Member Since: August 2, 2005 Posts: 7 Comments: 68
307. 147257
12:45 PM GMT on May 01, 2006
louastu water is there too cold for warm core system
Member Since: August 2, 2005 Posts: 7 Comments: 68
304. louastu
5:23 AM GMT on May 01, 2006
I am very new to reading these maps, but to me it looks like the system off the East Coast is expected to become a warm core system within 96 hours. If I am wrong please tell me.

303. kerneld
5:10 AM GMT on May 01, 2006
So you plan to have floating microwave transmitters that are intentional put in the path of any big hurrican that is projected to come by its roaming vicinity? These pumps would have pretty hig h maintainence costs.
300. ForecasterColby
3:52 AM GMT on May 01, 2006
On the microwaves - they don't work, but they wouldn't cook the water vapor in the air. Microwaves work by using water's resonant frequency, perhaps I'll elaborate tomorrow (must stop staying up until midnight on school nights)
285. ForecasterColby
12:51 AM GMT on May 01, 2006
Test or not, it's still interesting. Oh well *shrugs*
284. avlos
12:50 AM GMT on May 01, 2006
buster... in your tunels how do you bring the electricity to the land without completely lacing the gulf with ecosystem killing powerlines? are you blind to the consequences of this?
Member Since: July 14, 2005 Posts: 8 Comments: 132
282. bocaman
9:25 PM GMT on April 30, 2006
Well I gotta go, I need to keep studying for finals, need to keep that average up. We'll see about that low. There's a very low chance but if the convection becomes greater and it is able to move into warmer water, it may have a chance at TD status.
281. atmosweather
9:14 PM GMT on April 30, 2006
Yeah OGal, Tom saved us. Our house was damaged and the forest behind our house was almost completely leveled. We also helped out a lot, clearing debris from people's driveways and providing ice and food to other communities. That's what kept everyone so upbeat.
Member Since: September 24, 2005 Posts: 33 Comments: 9265
280. OGal
9:11 PM GMT on April 30, 2006
Hey Atmos, if it hadn't been for Tom Terry, Channel 9 we would never have known that Charley was even headed our way. Charley came right over my house and took everything in its way. Lost my roof and several trees over one hundred years old. My husband is a mortgage banker at Suntrust and we tried to drive to his Maitland office and we could not get through. That was on the 14th of August. It was a horrible day. However, having said that we had neighbors helping neighbors. If someone needed something we did it for them, or got it for them. When the linemen came in from North Carolina we feed them. I truly believe that it is a situation where immediate help comes from you neighbors not the government.
Member Since: August 28, 2005 Posts: 72 Comments: 19224
279. atmosweather
9:10 PM GMT on April 30, 2006
LOL Bocaman. Well, just stay away from Daytona and Vero Beaches. Don't like them one bit.
Member Since: September 24, 2005 Posts: 33 Comments: 9265
278. bocaman
9:08 PM GMT on April 30, 2006
My mom gets jealous sometimes cause they want to retire near the beach one day and I'm 21 and just a few minutes away from one.
277. bocaman
9:07 PM GMT on April 30, 2006
you know atmos, I've never been to any east coast beaches until I came to FAU here 3 years ago in Boca. Well except Miami Beach when i was younger
276. atmosweather
9:03 PM GMT on April 30, 2006
Yeah they were really nice. West coast has some great beaches though (Clearwater, Venice, Sarasota). Cocoa is the best in central Florida.
Member Since: September 24, 2005 Posts: 33 Comments: 9265

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Dr. Masters co-founded wunderground in 1995. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters 1986-1990. Co-blogging with him: Bob Henson, @bhensonweather

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