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Hurricane Maria

They Are Unwelcome Visitors, But Can We Make Them Go Away?

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In a previous column I discussed a famous quote that relates to the weather. The quote is from Charles Dudley Warner, but many attribute it to Mark Twain who merely quoted it. The quote is “Everybody complains about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.” Going back in history many people have tried to change the weather or at least find ways that might work. The old time “rain makers” who went from town to town in their wagon soliciting money from unsuspecting townspeople to make it rain couldn’t actually change the weather. There are companies that charge farming interests to seed clouds with various chemicals in an effort to produce rain in times of drought. I have also heard of some truly wacky ideas that some people have devised to change the weather. One was to fly a plane over a tornado and drop explosives into it in order to disrupt the air circulation and thus kill the tornado. One of the worst ideas that I came across was someone who thought that dropping a nuclear bomb into the eye of a hurricane would take all of the energy out of the storm and effectively break up the large-scale circulation. I guess they neglected to take into account the radiation cloud that, because it would be detonated in the atmosphere, would eventually spread for thousand of miles and could even circle the globe.

Hurricane Maria
Hurricane Maria Moving Over The Caribbean | Image by NOAA through space.com

We have seen the terrible power of hurricanes that can kill people and destroy property like Hurricane Maria in the last hurricane season which practically destroyed the island of Puerto Rico. Total fatalities were reported at 112 with 64 deaths reported in Puerto Rico. It has been reported that the number of Puerto Rico deaths could actually be as many as 1,052.

Underwater View of Bubble curtain
Bubble Curtain Underwater View | Photo by marineecology@hsu-humboldt.wordpress.com

A recent article published on March 19, 2018 in Science Daily.com caught my attention because of it’s seemingly implausible title “Preventing hurricanes using bubbles.” I don’t know about you, but when I saw this title I had visions of soap bubbles, the bubbles in carbonated beverages, or even the bubbles caused when swimming underwater with SCUBA tanks. None of these options would seem to have any impact on such a large-scale phenomenon as a hurricane. That being said serious scientists have developed what they feel may be just the key they have been looking for to effectively kill the development of hurricanes as they move over the ocean and approach a land mass.

Frozen Fjord
Frozen Fjord In Norway | Photo by Egon- posted on Scrapbook

The idea comes from Norway where scientists developed a way to prevent ice from forming on the fjords. They place a pipe under the water and drop it to the bottom. Holes in the pipe allow bubbles from compressed air that is pumped through the pipe to rise to the surface as a bubble curtain bringing water that is warmer than the cold water that is at the surface in winter thus keeping ice from forming.

Olav Hollingsaeter from OceanTherm AS is the scientist who first suggested that hurricanes could be impacted by cooling the surface water by means of air bubbles.

Bubble Curtain
Bubble Curtain Installed | Image by Hydrotechnik Lubekgmbh

The scientists at The Foundation for Scientific and Industrial Research (SINTEF– In Norwegian: Stiftelsen forIndustriell go tecknist forsaking bed Norges) headquartered in Trondheim, Norway at the Norwegian Institute of Technology (NHT) have developed a process by which they feel Hurricanes could be prevented from making such a dangerous landfall. According to Grim Eidnes, Senior Research Scientist at SINTEF Ocean “The method consists of supplying bubbles of compressed air from a perforated pipe lowered in the water, which then rise, taking with them colder water from deeper in the ocean. At the surface, the cold water mixes with, and cools, the warm surface water.” “Our initial investigations show that the pipes must be located between 100 and 150 metres depth in order to extract water that is cold enough.” “By bringing this water to the surface using the bubble curtains, the surface temperature will fall below 26.5 degrees C, thus cutting off the hurricane’s energy supply.” The hope is to stop the hurricane from attaining the super intensity that is so deadly and destructive and possibly helping the hurricane dissipate altogether. Converting the depth needed it would be 328-492 feet.

To explain the previous paragraph more directly in hurricane terminology, hurricanes need the surface water temperature to be at least 26.5 degrees C (80 degrees F) in order to survive. Cooling the surface water would effectively stop the hurricane from gaining any more strength and possibly even begin to make it weaken severely and maybe even dissipate.

Yucatan Strait Map
Yucatan Strait Bubble Line | Image by maritime-executive.com through sintefino

One of the places suggests the perfect spot to locate a bubble curtain is the Yucatan Strait. If the bubble curtain were to be stretched under the strait hurricanes attempting to move from the Caribbean into the Gulf of Mexico could be weakened before they ever approached the U.S. or Mexico Gulf coastline.

This sounds like a great idea that could actually work. There would be some serious hurdles to put it into practice. First of all just how long would the pipe have to be to make the bubble curtain bring up enough cold water to drop the surface temperature enough? Where would it be located? Then how far offshore would the pipe placement have to be ignored to degrade the storm enough to prevent disaster? And lastly, possibly the most important problem, how much would it cost to protect the coastline of a hurricane prone area? I’m sure the scientists are trying to work these things out, but will they be able to devise solutions that will take this idea to fruition?

Let me know what you would like me to talk about or explain. You can comment below or email me at: tim.chuey@eugenedailynews.com.

Tim Chuey is a Member of the American Meteorological Society and the National Weather Association and has been Awarded Seals of Approval for television weathercasting from both organizations.

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