Some Thoughts on Taming Hurricanes

Each year, millions and millions of dollars of property damage in the United States are caused by ocean-formed hurricanes. Each year, untold human suffering is caused by these giant storms. With all the tools of modern technology at our disposal there ought to be something we could do to control the formation of these storms.

The science of meteorology is becoming increasingly accurate at predicting the general area where a hurricane is likely to form. Satellite pictures can be analyzed by giant computers to show the location of typical "hurricane style" storm systems.

Then what would it take to disrupt the formation of these deadly storms? Could there be some way of decreasing the wind speed of these storms?

It would seem that we have the tools right now to be able to dissipate some of the energy of hurricanes as they form. Meteorologists have long known that hurricanes form over warmer-than-usual ocean areas, usually off the western coast of North Africa and in the Gulf of Mexico. The solution to controlling hurricanes might be to find ways of cooling these warmer-than-usual ocean areas.

How could this be accomplished? Here are a few ideas: 1) ocean plowing, 2) wind energy ocean cooling, and 3) transported icebergs. An explanation of each of these ideas follows.

Ocean Plowing

Now that the Cold War has ended, U.S. and Russian nuclear submarines could be put to use in "plowing" warm surface water areas of the ocean. This plowing would mix surface temperature water with cooler water just a few feet below the surface. Admittedly, the surface area of the ocean areas where hurricanes form is very large. But if thirty to forty submarines were put to use for this task, they might conceivably be able to lower surface water temperatures by one or two degrees. That small amount of cooling might have a large effect on the formation of hurricanes over this warm water.

Consider the math involved in such "ocean plowing." Nuclear powered submarines can travel as fast as 25 miles per hour. Let's assume that these submarines would be dragging an ocean plowing apparatus that slows the submarine down to 15 miles per hour.

If the ocean plowing apparatus stretched a half mile wide, that means that a single submarine could plow 180 square miles of ocean in any 24 hour period. (The plowed surface area equals 15 miles per hour times 24 hours times 1/2 mile wide.)

Forty submarines could, therefore, plow about 7200 square miles of surface area in any given 24 hour period. (This would be equivalent to a square with an edge of 85 miles.) In a given month, these submarines could theoretically plow 216,000 square miles of ocean. (Equivalent to a square with an edge of 465 miles.)

Ocean plowing need not involve nuclear submarines only, though. The ocean areas off the coast of West Africa are one of the most heavily traveled shipping lanes in the world. A broad fan-shaped collection of flotation barrels (each with a plowing attachment) could be a dragged from ships traveling through these shipping lanes. Admittedly this would require extra fuel for the merchants ships. But since the ships are traveling these ocean areas anyway, the cost of paying for extra fuel would be money well spent on reducing the severity of forming hurricanes.

Wind Energy Cooling

The idea behind wind energy cooling of surface water temperature is to use the power of the wind to raise cooler water temperatures to the surface of the ocean. Wind powered water pumps are inexpensive. Here is how this idea might work.

A collection of about eighty to one hundred wind-powered water pumps would be mounted along the edge of a very large circular shaped floating structure. The water pumps would bring sharply cooler water up from twenty to thirty feet below the surface of the ocean. This water would be raised about ten feet above the ocean level, and then would travel out to several dozen "sprinkling stations" attached to the circular structure as radiating spokes. Small diesel powered engines would then power pumps to spray the cooler water out in a circular path, analogous to a garden sprinkler (but on a much larger scale).

Since the major energy usage of this structure is from the wind powered pumps, the small diesel powered sprinklers would be an efficient use of energy.

This entire wind powered flotation device could itself be moved every few days to enlarge the area of ocean being cooled. Admittedly, each one of these wind powered flotation devices could only cool a small area of ocean. But if a two hundred or three hundred or five hundred of such inexpensive devices were made operational, the cumulative cooling might begin to add up to something that could reduce the severity of a forming hurricane's winds.

Transported Icebergs

The thought of transporting icebergs to equatorial ocean areas sounds a bit farfetched, admittedly. The expense of moving an iceberg several thousand miles is immensely large, any way you look at it.

But consider the fact that existing Arctic icebergs quite regularly stray into the shipping lanes between North America and Europe. Recall, a southern straying iceberg caused the famous Titanic ship to sink.

If southern straying icebergs were carefully monitored, it might be possible to locate one or more "ideal candidate" icebergs that could be slowly transported to the warm ocean areas off the coast of West Africa. An "ideal candidate" iceberg would be one that is small enough to be transported without gigantic cost, but large enough that it would be worth the while to transport it.

How could the transportation of icebergs be achieved? Well, you could pull them with a couple of submarines. Throw a metal chain harness over the berg and then just haul it along like you would a big tree stump.

If such an "ideal candidate" southern drifting iceberg were spotted in the month of March, then you would have four months to move it down to the equator before the beginning of the hurricane season. (The hurricane season of the mid-Atlantic starts in June and ends in November.) There are other alternatives to moving icebergs besides submarines pulling them along. It wouldn't be too much trouble to fasten a sail onto an iceberg, and then have a computer controlled motor to help the sail steer the iceberg in a southerly direction.

For that matter, it wouldn't be difficult to attach a rudder to an iceberg, to further control its motion. A dedicated diesel engine (with an attached propeller) could be also mounted on the rear of an iceberg.

Finally, it might be possible to design artificial icebergs, specially streamlined for easiest possible transportation to the southern climes. These artificial icebergs would be manufactured in the late winter, along the coast of Greenland, by pouring water into a hollow ship mold. The ship's shell itself, then, could be built of ice. These ship-shaped icebergs could then travel under their own steam to warm water regions off the coast of West Africa.

Naturally, once they arrived in warmer waters, their engines and propellers would be recovered for use in ensuing years.

These are some ideas of how to cool the waters that serve as breeding grounds for mid-Atlantic hurricanes. Currently the United States spends little, if anything, on efforts to control the severity of hurricanes. The reason for making such efforts is as clear as the predicted harm that Hurricane Andrew would have had if it had directly hit the city of Miami. If the eye of Hurricane Andrew passed over the city of Miami, the predicted damage would have been in the range of $50 to $70 billion.

Spending $40 to $50 million annually on hurricane prevention would be a small insurance policy against a $50 billion disaster. To say nothing of the lives that could be saved.

Phil Shapiro
Copyright 1995


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