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Monday, August 18, 2008

CAN THE BLUE REVOLUTION PREVENT THE FORMATION OF HURRICANES?

The following is excerpted from Chapter 4 of SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Planet Earth.
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First of all, I should mention that hurricanes/typhoons are actually desired in certain localities, and may well be necessary in the natural ecology of life. These storms do generate upwelling of nutrient-rich water to spark blooms of phytoplankton to start the cycle leading to more seafood. Typhoon Kai-Tak is known to have changed water surface temperatures by 9 °C (16 °F) as it was churning over the South China Sea and increased ocean chlorophyll 300-fold four days after passage. Thus while civilizations are inconvenienced, marine life can be enhanced.
I gave a Blue Revolution talk in Taipei a few years ago. One concerned individual from the audience stated that most of the freshwater needed for Taiwan comes from rainfall brought by typhoons. If I were to prevent the formation of these storms, their island economy would be jeopardized. My response was to adjust the climate system so that winds would be below a Category 1 typhoon, reducing damage, while still bringing water. I might have been flippant with this rejoinder, but, as I think about it, while we will someday prevent hurricanes, we should also be able to allow for milder conditions to bring rainfall to land.

But, global warming is heating the ocean, and any kind of common sense will tell you that more frequent and larger hurricanes will be produced. In 1970 a cyclone (also known as hurricane or typhoon, depending on which part of which ocean) slammed into the Bay of Bengal and killed up to half a million and at least 300,000 people in Bangladesh. Then there is Katrina in 2005, responsible for 1500 deaths and causing up to a trillion dollars of damage and reconstruction, hopefully so that the next time the city will be able to withstand a Category 5 (higher than 155 MPH or 67 meters/second or 241 kilometers per hour) storm. Don't hold your breath for government to make New Orleans completely safe.
Kerry Emanuel reported in Nature in 2005 that hurricanes, indeed, had grown more intense over the past 30 years because of global warming. Peter Webster, et al, followed in Science that Category 4 (131 to 155 MPH) and 5 hurricanes worldwide had nearly doubled over the past 35 years. All this, with an ocean surface temperature increase of only 0.3 °C (0.5 °F) to 0.6° (1 °F). Interestingly enough, the Webster study showed that there were fewer hurricanes in this period. A possible explanation is that major storms kick-up the ocean, bringing the colder deep fluids to the surface. Yet, since 1995, North Atlantic hurricanes are becoming more numerous and longer-lasting.

There remains, though, a reluctance to necessarily blame Man for this change, and skeptics abound, including Patrick Michael, who argues that sea temperatures have no effect on hurricanes when wind speeds of 116 MPH (50 meters/second) are attained. I would offer Katrina as an obvious exception. Philip Klotzbach of Colorado State University writes that the data used by Emanuel and Webster prior to the mid-80s were patchy. The science of future hurricanes is again mentioned in the next chapter on global warming.

Anticipating worst case scenarios, on May 24, 1993, Stanley Dunn, who was at that time chairman of the Ocean Engineering Department at Florida Atlantic University, and I co-chaired an exploratory discussion at the Department of Commerce in D.C. on the potential of forming a team to prepare a feasibility plan for the design, construction and operation of a fleet of OTEC-powered plant ships as a major defense conversion or National Institute of Science and Technology Advanced Technology Program initiative to retard the formation of hurricanes. There also were representatives from industry and government. The group was ambitious. We drew up a plan for 500 floating plant ships over the next 20 years to manufacture marine products, of course, but also to prevent the formation of hurricanes. In 1992 hurricanes had caused more than $20 billion of damage in the U.S. We surmised that global warming would only mean stronger hurricanes. As these storms do not form when the surface temperature is below 26.8 °C (80 °F), what are the prospects of placing these revenue generating platforms at susceptible sites to eliminate these environmental monsters?

A writing team was assigned to seek $875,000 in Phase One to:

o Identify realistic mechanisms for hurricane prevention.
o Develop preliminary computer models to optimize at-sea experiments.
o Form the industrial team capable of building and operating up to 500 floating platforms
over the next two decades to accomplish this task.
o Recommend a financing mechanism to implement the program.

Upon completion, Phase Two, to cost $8 million over a two year period, would:

o Develop an engineering design of the plant ship.
o Produce an implementation plan.
o Gain the involvement of user and insurance industries.

Phase Three would be devoted to selecting up to three grazing systems for fabrication at a 50 MW scale, estimated to cost in those days $250 million each, but should be self-supporting through the production of seafood, biofuels, etc. Phase Four would extend over a decade to deploy 500 250 MW plant ships. Here I went again with another billion dollar scheme. I never learn.

In retrospect, half of these systems would have been in place by 2005. Could Hurricane Katrina have been diffused? As the expectation is that Katrina will eventually cost something on the order of $500 billion and perhaps double that to protect New Orleans, the expenses for these plant ships, which, again, would all be revenue-generating and Greenhouse Effect remediative, would have been in the ball park of those coming expenses. Needless to say, Phase One was not funded.

But there are budding heroes out there. A particularly dedicated savior is Richard LaRosa. He has a web site (http://sealevelcontrol.com), and is devoting his retirement years to, first, slowing sea level rise, and now, preventing the formation of hurricanes. His theory regarding the latter is that artificial upwelling can be utilized through ocean thermal energy conversion to cool surface waters where hurricanes are generated or pass to suppress these storms. The problem is that he is only focusing on the science and engineering fundamentals to build a strong case for his concept. First, his mobile hurricane terminator (my naming) will be built only for this task alone. No co-products. Second, he has no idea who will fund it, nor how much anything will cost. We have been communicating for a year or so, and my advice to him includes:

o Completing those calculations as soon as possible and begin focusing on the reality of
politics and funding support.
o As I don’t think he will secure funding only to suppress hurricanes, find a way to generate
some revenues while awaiting hurricanes.
o However, as Katrina could well cost a trillion dollars, if he can build a movable system to
stop hurricanes for $10 billion, he might find some takers soon after a Category 5 storm
decimates another metropolitan area. Remember, Katrina was only a 3, and veered
East before hitting New Orleans.
o Find a younger person as dedicated as he is to be a close colleague, for Dr. LaRosa, I think,
is old (anyone older than me is old, although we’ve never met).
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Oil dropped below $113/barrel, but ended up at $113.15/barrel. This the lowest petroleum has been for three and a half months, nearly a 25% decrease from $147/barrel. The Dow Jones Industrials dropped 200 to 11,460.
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Tropical Storm Fay, probably to barely attain hurricane status when the center crosses the southwest coast of Florida on Tuesday, is slow moving, meaning that floods could pose a serious problem. Fay is likely to eventually go north through Florida and either head towards Atlanta or enter the Atlantic. No potential hurricanes are currently near Hawaii, as Iselle is now a remnant. Typhoon Nuri is at 75 MPH and should skirt the Northern Phillipines and pass south of Taiwan.
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