Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Bill Gates and Hurricane Prevention

I came across this article about Bill Gates new patent on an invention to decrease hurricane intensity. It might be old news to some but I thought it was really interesting. In 2008 Bill Gates filed for several structure patents which are designed to weaken or even dissipate hurricanes directed toward the United States' Gulf coast. As these deadly hurricanes form as a result of warm ocean surface water (among other things), Gates' new project design would churn the cold, deep ocean water in hopes for it to mix with the warm surface water.

"According to NASA, low sea surface temperatures can spell death for a hurricane, as happened in 1998 when the cold water Hurricane Bonnie left in its wake caused Hurricane Danielle, which was following close behind, to dissipate. Thus, there is reason to suspect that a significant amount of cold water could cause a hurricane to dissipate.
There are two ideas behind Gates' patent idea. First, the lower depths of the ocean may be used as a huge heat/energy sink. In this method warm ocean surface water is pushed in a downward direction to exit into the cold ocean depths, operating in a continuous cycle. Second, while the primary conduit pushes water down, in an alternative version a secondary conduit may be used to bring cold water to the surface to aid in cooling the warm surface water regions by mixing of subsurface water with surface water."
While the magnitude of the effort might be considerable, perhaps even to the point that it may never become feasible, the physics involved are plausible, and looking at the heat graph above showing how Danielle never materialized it does not seem as if there is a large temperature difference required. Perhaps it is unrealistic to think that anything man made could dissipate a hurricane, but perhaps lessening hurricanes is far more possible. Given the harm caused by hurricanes, there will no doubt be some who continue to follow this and other paths in an effort to control their deadly and damaging affects. your thoughts?





  1. To me the technology seems intriguing but I wonder about the environmental impacts of circulating cold and warm water. For example, what will be the impacts on the plant and animal species living in those waters, especially if they are sensitive to temperature changes?

  2. I think this is a terrible idea, and I am actually very concerned that anyone would consider completely disrupting the natural oceanic currents. Once again humans think that they can just find new technology to overcome any of their issues. Has there been any research on the ecological effects of this? Species depend on very specific water temperatures to survive. This would inevitably destroy many fish habitats. There is a reason that Earth obeys the natural laws of physics. There is a reason that heat rises and cold sinks. I am shocked the Bill Gates of all people is not aware of how messing with this simple property will inevitably cause extremely more damage to the environment than a hurricane.

    Not that I support this argument either but, on the other hand, ocean temperatures are one of the main factors that control air temperature. This concept of cooling oceanic surface temperatures could hypothetically combat global warming as well. Lets hope Bill doesnt come across this blog....

  3. I agree with the previous commenters. To put this man made hurricane prevention idea into practice would require a consensus through scientific studies that it would not cause ecological damage or have a long run impact on the ocean currents. I am no scientist, but I cannot imagine that there wouldn't be a significant ecological impact of changing sea surface temperatures. I know that Bill Gates and the scientists behind this project have good intentions, but the manipulation of nature on this large of a scale seems almost certain to have significant consequences.

  4. Where's the line? If it could prevent another catastrophes like Hurricane Katrina, Stan, and Wilma, could it be worth it? But I agree that there needs to be more studies about 1) how much water would need to be mixed and 2) what kind of impact it would have. Really interesting topic though!

  5. After taking several ATOC classes I can definitely see how this idea would work. According to what I have learned in my classes, cold water has a serious slowing effect on all tropical storms at sea. In fact the way we were taught to track the movement and intensity of storms was almost fully dependent on ocean temperature. I think this is a very cool idea with good science behind it! Now my only question is what possible effects it would have on the ocean and land ecosystems?

  6. First of all, how do you churn a portion of the ocean that is thousands of feet deep? What technology are they using for this? It seems impossible. Also, there are zones in the ocean which contain specific temperatures (i.e. epipelagic, mesopelagic) that house certain species of animals that live in these certain conditions. Mixing these layers and forming one layer would most definitely disrupt the ecosystem of this area.

  7. a similar effect is believed to be achievable using an array of large directed antenna, focused at one point in the stratosphere. If I remember correctly, the effect occurred due to a bulge forming from heating the atmosphere at that particular spot. the ethical and environmental implication of implementing either design are disturbing.

  8. I think that geoengineering in general is a terrible idea, because environmental effects happen for a reason and human intervention, with our track record, will probably make something worse happen somewhere else. This remind me of my lecture in oceanography this morning in which we talked about how dumping iron the southern ocean could reverse global warming. Although such actions may help out some situations temporarily, I dont think anything good could come from such geoengineering in the long run.

  9. While the intentions are noble, I have to agree with the other comments. Also, I'm not sure how they would get this kind of equipment into the path of a hurricane in time. Would they line the coast with expensive water churning devices, or just put them in front of major cities where damages would be the worst?


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