How to Prevent Hurricanes Before We’re All Underwater

This past hurricane season has been one of the worst in history with more named storms in the first three and a half months than there have ever been in previous seasons. The tropical storms and hurricanes destroyed countless homes and displaced thousands of people, including the people of Puerto Rico and citizens of many islands in the Bahamas. We can not afford to have more storms and hurricanes of this caliber destroying these fragile communities again.

In the early ’90s a few scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, CO theorized possible ways to weaken and possibly destroy these tropical storms and hurricanes. A method they came up with was a process called marine cloud brightening (MCB). MCB mitigates one of the most dangerous parts of a hurricane- the warm water. Scientists are able to make clouds by infusing water vapor with sea salt and the water vapor would then be able to condense, creating a more white cloud that reflect sunlight more effectively. By creating clouds, we are able to place them over bodies of water in hurricane-prone areas so they can reflect the sunlight back up instead of letting it heat up the water. If these clouds were deployed prior to hurricane season, they could cause many of those category 5 hurricanes to lose their steam before they hit the shores of some poor island. Additionally, this method would not cause further damage to the environment or the aquatic ecosystem.

Pipeline companies are also throwing in their two cents about what could stop these hurricanes. They start on the same basis that the abnormally warm water is to blame for these particularly disastrous storms, so their solution is to bring cold water to the surface. They plan to build pipes that go to the lower levels of the sea, where the water is much colder than the water on the surface, and pump the warmer surface water down in an attempt to draw the cold water to the surface. An alternative use for the pipes is to array long vertical tubes from floating rings. As the waves lap against the rings, the water level in them rises to sea level which pushes the water in the pipe down and forces the cold water to the surface. One drawback of this plan is that there is no real way to anchor them securely during a storm, so they would drift around. Also, that displacement of water could be harmful to the creatures that reside in the cool depths as well as the ones that remain close to the surface. If these animals and plants are not used to the warmer temperature, then they could be harmed in this process.

This is what would happen to coral reefs if they were exposed to warmer water:

The final of cooling the oceans is also the most extreme. Some scientists believe that by pumping aerosols into the stratosphere, so they can reflect the sunlight back into space. The aerosols can weaken the development of hurricanes and wind speeds and, in some areas, can even cause them to fall apart. Studies have only been conducted in areas where there is a high aerosol concentration and the results have been promising. Typically, people have a negative connotation of “aerosols” because of the CFC’s that were banned in the ’70s. While other aerosols are not as dangerous as CFC’s, they are still harmful to our ozone layer and trap greenhouse gases, making this method a little circular. However, at this point, humans would need to make a drastic change to our lifestyle to make any real impact on global warming and other effects of climate change. We need to decide if this would be the right method to use for right now even if it may harm us in the future. Is the future of our planet more important than the lives of people on tropical islands or are we to hope the other methods may be more effective against the next extreme hurricane season?

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One Response to How to Prevent Hurricanes Before We’re All Underwater

  1. DC October 21, 2017 at 4:50 pm #

    Recently, Puerto Rico and the United States have encountered severe hurricanes that have left homes, businesses, and more in shambles. Puerto Rico and other vulnerable islands may not be able to survive if hit by another hurricane. Therefore, it is of major interest amongst scientists to develop ways to prevent severe hurricanes from developing in the first place. Sirina Natarajan brings up some interesting proposals made to try and prevent hurricanes in this article.
    It is believed that warm water is what leads to severe hurricanes. Every method proposed in this article aims to lower the water temperature to combat hurricanes. Although these methods may prevent disastrous hurricanes, there may be other consequences. For example, the MCB method which aims to create whiter clouds to better reflect sunlight results in sunlight not reaching the water. This could have detrimental effects on the marine plants and photosynthetic algae. If sunlight is unable to reach these plants, they could die. These plants provide much of the oxygen in our atmosphere, so if they die, this could lead to that area being deficient in oxygen. That would be a bad thing for people living close to this water.
    The second method involving pipes also has its potential consequences. As the author mentions, if cold water is brought to the surface and warm water brought deeper down, this could impact the aquatic life that inhabits those areas. Species that live at the surface of water do so because they have adapted to live in a warmer aquatic environment. If cold water is brought to the surface, those species may not be able to survive and could die. The same could happen for the species that live in colder environment and get warm water pumped into the area.
    The last method, as the author mentions, is the most extreme. Pumping aerosols into the atmosphere can harm our ozone layer and trap greenhouse gases. Damaging our ozone layer makes it easier for the UV rays to penetrate our atmosphere and damage people’s skin. This could lead to more sun burns and skin cancer. Greenhouse gases are responsible for global warming which is why our oceans are warming in the first place. Using this method may temporarily fix the issue, but it will only add to the problem in the long term.
    The best method to combat hurricanes is one that is temporary as to not cause other long term negative effects. If the MCB method could be designed to last short term only in areas that are predicted to have a hurricane develop, then this could be a method of interest. Puerto Rico and other island nations need help and may not be able to survive another hurricane. Perhaps it can be justified to use any method necessary to save these islands short term, so long as the negative effects aren’t too severe.

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