Global heating and the resulting climate breakdown are making wild weather the new normal. Rather than resorting to fanciful mega-scale geoengineering, though, the real solutions are far more prosaicby Bill McGuire / September 12, 2019 / Leave a comment
‘I got it, I got it. Why don’t we nuke them.’ No, not the Russians—hurricanes. Donald Trump’s reported solution to the growing hurricane threat to the US does boggle the mind, but given his inane spoutings on other issues, it is hardly a surprise.
Of course, the President has since denounced the whole things as fake news. Trump appears to be one of those people for whom a nuclear blast is the solution to every problem. But a hurricane is not North Korea or Iran. The fact is, the energy locked up in a hurricane dwarfs that of even the biggest nuclear bomb. In fact, an established hurricane releases as much heat energy every twenty minutes as a 10 megatonne nuclear device.
US interest in examining ways to defuse hurricanes is long-standing, and as far back as the early 1960s, storms were seeded with silver iodide in an attempt to weaken them—to no avail. Today, as the toll from hurricanes climbs, the renewed enthusiasm is understandable.
In 2017 alone, three major storms in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico—Harvey, Irma and Maria—took more than 300 lives and caused damage totalling a staggering US$450billion. And things can only get worse as global heating increases the frequency of the most powerful storms and makes them wetter too, causing more flooding.
But, Dr. Strangelove schemes aside, a few technological fixes have been touted that supposedly have the potential to spike a hurricane’s guns. A couple of these focus on cooling the surface waters of the tropical Atlantic, either by spraying seawater into the air to reflect more of the Sun’s heat or by using giant tubes to suck warm surface waters down into the depths.
Hurricanes need a water temperature of at least 26.5°C to form, so by dropping ocean surface temperatures below this—the thinking goes—hurricane formation will become impossible. The downside is that both schemes would require prodigious numbers of ships or barges stretched across the hurricane spawning grounds of the tropical Atlantic, at an astronomical cost.
A third fix builds on the idea that wind generators are capable of sucking the energy from a hurricane, thereby making it impotent. The problem lies in the staggering number of turbines needed—some 78,000 to subdue a category four (the second most powerful)…