Is It Feasible To Stop Hurricanes by Cooling the Ocean?

A crew member onboard the International Space Station took this photograph of Hurricane Ian on September 26 while orbiting more than 400 kilometers (250 miles) above Earth’s surface. At the time, the space station was located over the Caribbean Sea east of Belize, and Hurricane Ian was just south of Cuba. Over the course of the day, it grew from a tropical storm to a category-2 hurricane. Credit: NASA

According to researchers, ocean cooling is an effectively impossible solution to mitigate disasters.

According to recent research, even if we had infinite power to artificially chill the oceans enough to weaken a hurricane, the benefits would be minimal. The research, headed by experts at the University of Miami’s (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric, and Earth Science, found that using intervention technology to weaken a hurricane before impact is an extremely inefficient way to mitigate 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. While any amount of weakening before landfall is a good thing, for these reasons it makes more sense to direct focus towards adaptation strategies such as reinforcing infrastructure, improving the efficiency of evacuation procedures, and advancing the science around detection and prediction of impending storms.”

A satellite image from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration captures an active hurricane season which included Hurricanes Katia and Irma and Tropical Storm Jose (from left to right) on September 8, 2017. Credit: NOAA

The scientists combined air-sea interaction theories with a highly sophisticated computer model of the atmosphere to provide valid scientific answers to questions concerning the efficacy of artificially chilling the ocean to weaken hurricanes.

They cooled regions of the ocean up to 260,000 km2 in size, which is bigger than the state of Oregon and equals 21,000 cubic kilometers of water, by up to 2 degrees DOI: 10.1038/s43247-022-00519-1

The study was funded by the National Science Foundation and the University of Miami. 

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