Hurricane over Florida

Ocean cooling debunked as hurricane prevention idea

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Using computer simulations, Florida scientists have found that using technology to cool the Earth's oceans would likely not be an effective solution to prevent natural disasters such as hurricanes.

The study led by scientists at the University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric and Earth Science showed that the amount of energy that would be needed to weaken a hurricane before landfall would make ocean cooling an inefficient solution to mitigate natural disasters.

“The main result from our study is that massive amounts of artificially cooled water would be needed for only a modest weakening in hurricane intensity before landfall,” said the study’s lead author James Hlywiak, a graduate of the UM Rosenstiel School.

“Plus, weakening the intensity by marginal amounts doesn’t necessarily mean that the likelihood for inland damages and safety risks would decrease as well."

Hurricanes feed off warm waters and they weaken once they hit land or cooler parts of the ocean. In light of this, some have suggested artificial ocean cooling as a way to lessen their devastation and the United States even carried out Project Stormfury, to look into the feasibility of these ideas. 

In order to study the effectiveness of ocean cooling on disaster prevention, the researchers used a computer model of the Earth's atmosphere, as well as a combination of air-sea interaction theories. 

In their computer simulations, they cooled areas of the ocean up to 260,000 km2 in size - larger than the state of Oregon and equating to 21,000 cubic kilometres of water - by up to 2 degrees Celsius.

Even with the largest area of cooling, the simulated hurricanes weakened by only 15 per cent. The amount of energy extracted from the ocean to achieve this small reduction is equivalent to more than 100 times the amount consumed across the entire United States in 2019 alone.

“You might think that the main finding of our article, that it’s pointless to try to weaken hurricanes, should be obvious,” said David Nolan, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the UM Rosenstiel School and senior author of the study.

“And yet, various ideas for hurricane modification appear often in popular media and are even submitted for patents every few years. We’re happy to be able to put something into the peer-reviewed literature that actually addresses this.”

Instead of looking at ways to weaken hurricanes before landfall (such as President Trump's proposed idea of hitting them with nuclear bombs), the researchers have recommended that policy decisions focus on adaptation strategies such as reinforcing infrastructure, improving the efficiency of evacuation procedures, and advancing the science around detection and prediction of impending storms.”

The study, titled “Targeted Ocean Cooling to Weaken Tropical Cyclones Would Be Futile,” was published in the journal Nature Communications Earth & Environment. 

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