Monday, October 03, 2005

We Have the Technology

A visionary scientist suggests that we can protect ourselves from hurricanes by creating small tropical storms with an array of jet engines:

Moshe Alamaro has a modest proposal. Get a fleet of ocean barges and mount 10 or 20 jet engines -- tails up -- on each one. Fill the barges with aviation fuel and tow them into the path of an oncoming hurricane. Light off the jets.
Given the fuel usage and pollution involved, this seems to me to be an idiotic idea. And even if by some miracle it could actually be made to work, one wonders whether it might simply change the course or the strength of a hurricane in unpredictable and possibly devastating ways.

Then, too, something in the tenor of Alamaro's discourse makes me particularly skeptical:
Emanuel, a top U.S. atmospheric scientist, is not an Alamaro fan: "I hate to sound pessimistic, but Moshe's strategy requires many orders of magnitude of energy more than what he's talking about, and the backfires would have to be almost as strong as the hurricane itself," Emanuel said. "I think, unfortunately, it falls into the category of nutty ideas."

Alamaro noted that in the 1970s the Soviet Union formed clouds on several occasions by using jet engines on land, a more difficult feat than in the tropical sea, and he dismissed Emanuel's criticism. "I say that Kerry Emanuel is not impressed by any idea but his own idea."
Hmmm. Coming up with a crackpot idea straight out of a comic book, supporting it by invoking dubious scientific breakthroughs from behind the Iron Curtain, and offering an aggrieved, personalized rebuttal of a "mainstream" scientist...Alamaro's hit the trifecta! Sounds like he's on the fast track to a lucrative DARPA contract, if nothing else.

I'm going to let you in on a little secret, friends. There's only one surefire way to protect America's coasts from hurricanes: A protective barrier of LNG plants like the one Shell wanted to build off the coast of Louisiana:
The plant would suck 100 million gallons of water per day from the Gulf, use it to raise the temperature of the liquefied gas (which is 260 degrees below zero), and then return the now-frigid water to the Gulf.
I'm joking, of course. But we may live to hear this proposal made in earnest.


Engineer-Poet said...

I've been meaning to revisit the convection tower concept published in Analog (Feb. 1994).  It deals with just this issue, but it would be a net producer of energy.

If you wanted to use jet engines, you could use the "hydrogen from green algae" trick to make gaseous fuel for them.  It would have the advantage of not using petroleum, at least.

Phila said...

Sounds fascinating...I hope you do revisit it!

I doubt the jet engine idea will work, but if they're really game to experiment with it, I certainly hope they'll use something other than petroleum...

Engineer-Poet said...

Or they could use methane from clathrates on the continental shelf; better to burn them in gas turbines than let them leak into the atmosphere.

Phila said...

I'm just not convinced they could generate enough force to affect a storm on the scale of Katrina or Rita. But God knows I'm no expert...if you think it's possible, I'll take your word for it.

The HAARP Project was supposed to have weather-modification capabilities, you know anything about that? I hate to bring it up at all, since the subject tends to attract a lot of oddballs, but I could swear it - or the patents on which it's based - had some sort of weather-modification angle. Unless I'm dreaming.

Engineer-Poet said...

I tend not to bother reading about crank-magnets like HAARP; they're mostly a waste of time.

The jet-engine concept is supposed to start convective flows which turn into small storms; these drain off the humid air near the sea surface and cool the top ocean layers.  A hurricane crossing those waters later would not have that heat to feed on and would be weaker.

Changing the course of the hurricane would be fine too; sending it out to sea or toward an area where wind shears will weaken it would protect the land nicely.

Phila said...

Re: HAARP, I completely agree...except that the guy whose patents it's based on - Eastlund - has respectable credentials, and has made tornado mitigation an ongoing focus of his research (which, from my cursory glance at his site this AM, seems to involve a solar-powered satellite array, acting in concert with HAARP).

This isn't a statement of advocacy on my part, mind you - perfectly respectable scientists pursue chimaerae all the time, and for all I know, Eastlund could be even crazier than the average Art Bell devotee. I was just curious whether you had any opinion on it.

Re: the jets, I understand the thinking; I'm just skeptical about the necessary energy input.

And about that convection tower you mentioned: is this what you're talking about?

Engineer-Poet said...

No, and neither is it the glass-surrounded tower proposed for the Australian outback.  It would be a true mega-engineering project, over 20,000 feet tall.

I'm going to have to dig out my old ish and start making drawings... like I don't have enough other stuff I'm ignoring.

Phila said...


Okay, I'm intrigued. Hope you can get around to it, but understand if you don't have time. I'm overworked myself...

Rmj said...

Ummm...we do understand that hurricanes are basically heat pumps. They move the hot air to a cooler region, and are entirely a function of atmospherics, available water (why Rita fell from a devastating Cat 5 to Cat 3 in a few days), and even the Coriolis force.

so trying to stop them would have cataclysmic effects on the global climate, even if it were possible.

In other words, this is an idea that ranks right up there with curing global warming by creating nuclear winter.....

Phila said...


Yeah, that's a whole other issue. There are many opportunities for disaster and unintended consequences here. Fortunately, I don't think they'll actually try Alamaro's idea, and if they do, I don't think it'll work well enough to make a difference to anything but his reputation.

But hey, I've been wrong before...

Engineer-Poet said...

One thing that ought to be noted is that hurricanes are stopped by a number of things.  One of them is cold fronts; if a front slams a hurricane with a bunch of cold, dry air, it essentially dies.  Lesser things can still cut their power.

If it's possible to start many rain clouds in the path of a hurricane and drain the supply of heat that would otherwise feed the storm (harmlessly, rather than as part of a destructive cyclone) the hurricane would not grow as powerful.  Could such countermeasures be harmful of themselves?  It's hard to see how.