Weather Control

by Tristan on August 31, 2010

in Climate change, Climate science

As Climate Change increases the amount of energy in the atmosphere, the strength and regularity of major weather events will increase. This, along with the general pleasantness of the survival of the human species, should motivate humanity to devote significant resources towards mitigating climate change. Of the many ways we are failing to respond adequately to the challenge which climate change presents, one is the underfunding of Weather Control research which might reduce the effects of Hurricanes. According to the US global change research program:

Based on a range of models, it is likely that future tropical cyclones (typhoons and hurricanes) will become more intense, with larger peak wind speeds and more heavy precipitation associated with ongoing increases of tropical SSTs.

Weather Control is normally associated with cloud seeding for rain. However, human interaction with weather events has also been used in attempts to reduce the strength of major storms. Beginning in 1962 the United States Government ran Project StormFury. Roughly, the hypothesis behind StormFury was to lace the inner wall of the eye of the hurricane with silver iodide, causing latent heat to be released through snow. The hypothesis failed, however, because similar structural changes were observed in both seeded and unseeded hurricanes. The project was officially cancelled in 1983.

While research on storm weather control has largely been pushed outside the field of mainstream science, there are several promising ideas, each of which might reduce the strength of a Hurricane. In order for a Hurricane to form, surface ocean temperature must be at least 26.5 degrees centigrade – and during Hurricane Katrina, ocean surface temperature was 30 degrees! Reducing sea surface temperature at the site of a hurricane could significantly reduce the strength of a Hurricane. One way of doing this is with a wave powered pump – like this one named “the salter sink“. Backed by Bill Gates, the pump, if deployed in sufficient numbers, could reduce ocean surface temperature. According to Scientific American,

The idea is that hundreds of these floating wave-powered seawater pumps would be deployed year-round in areas, such as the eastern tropical Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico, where hurricanes typically spawn or grow in intensity. (The devices would not, as widely speculated, be deployed only in the path of a hurricane that already formed.)

A possible side benefit to the installation of these pumps could be increased biological productivity in the tropical seas were they are deployed, because nutrients from deeper parts of the ocean would be brought to within 100 meters of the surface, the deepest that sunlight can penetrate and power the photosynthetic plankton that are the base of the ocean food chain”. However, Ricardo Letelier has pointed out that increasing the available nutrient levels in oceans can have unpredictable results:

If you were to keep the pumps running continuously…you may allow phytoplankton to bloom….If you do it for too long, you get a successional pattern where grazers take over and recycle nutrients. And that’s one of the problems we’ve had with iron fertilization experiments—the response of biological systems are not linear.

Worse, Letelier warns that deep ocean waters contain higher levels of dissolved C02 than surface water because deceased plankton sink. Therefore, mixing the two layers of ocean might lead to a significant CO2 transfer from the largest carbon sink (the ocean) to the open air.

The difficulties which surround weather control, therefore, quickly begin to resemble the difficulties of geo-engineering. Still, I doubt we can justly afford to ignore and underfund research into weather control as we move into a century which is likely to be heavily characterized by obscene weather events.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Milan September 1, 2010 at 9:47 am

Would this be more cost effective and safe than tightening building codes in areas prone to hurricanes, as well as dismantling insurance systems where people living in safe places subsidize those who build in dangerous ones?

Also, how much energy would a widely deployed pumping system use? Shifting water around on an oceanic scale seems likely to require large amounts.

. September 1, 2010 at 10:05 am

TS.4.4 The impact of altered extremes

Impacts are very likely to increase due to increased frequencies and intensities of extreme weather events.

Since the IPCC Third Assessment, confidence has increased that some weather events and extremes will become more frequent, more widespread or more intense during the 21st century; and more is known about the potential effects of such changes. These are summarised in Table TS.5.

Intense tropical cyclone activity increases – Likely

Tristan September 1, 2010 at 7:39 pm

The wave pumps are powered by – the waves! I.e. the rising and falling action of the water.

Milan September 1, 2010 at 7:49 pm

I see.

Using first principles of physics, someone could assess the plausibility of this working well by comparing the amount of energy that can be captured from waves with the amount of energy it would take to usefully mix seawater.

Milan September 1, 2010 at 7:57 pm

Imagine a big grid of these devices, floating off the east coast.

Logically, it seems that one of these would need to be true, either:

(a) each row of devices, moving toward the shore, only uses a fraction of the total energy available in the waves or

(b) only a limited number of rows could be put in place, because the outer ones would use up the wave energy.

Ideally, you would want a small number of rows, each able to capture much of the wave energy. That would limit deployment costs, compared with having to put in masses of the things.

Of course, you would need to cool a large area of ocean to have any effect on how much energy a hurricane acquires… Maybe a deep field would be the only thing that would work, despite the deployment cost…

Tristan September 1, 2010 at 9:24 pm

Milan, can you please go look at the diagram of how the pump works here:

http://intellectualventureslab.com/?tag=salter-sink

Milan September 2, 2010 at 9:17 am

The video is illustrative, though insufficient to answer the basic question of whether the waves provide adequate energy for effective pumping. It also doesn’t really answer the question of spacing – whether the pumps can be deployed in an array that effectively reduces the strength of hurricanes, even assuming they do a good job of local pumping.

Milan September 2, 2010 at 9:35 am

To get a quantitative sense of the energy that can be extracted from waves, it is worth considering some systems that have been tested.

Stephen Salter’s ‘duck’ can apparently convert Atlantic waves with average power of 45 kilowatts per metre into 19 kW/m of electricity. Note that this isn’t per square metre. It assumes a single row of ‘ducks’ 16m in diameter. Additional rows would obviously have less energy to work with.

The Pelamis device, which looks like a snake, is apparently able to extract 10 kW/m, using an array of “39 devices in three rows would face the principal wave direction, occupying an area of ocean, about 400m long and 2.5 km wide (an area of 1 km^2)”.

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