There are those who say we can “science our way out” of climate change. Many of us are skeptical of such claims because we don’t know what the consequences of fiddling with the environment might be. Scientists at SINTEF, the The Foundation for Scientific and Industrial Research in Trondheim, Norway, have an idea for how to prevent hurricanes from forming or reducing the power of those that do form. The secret? Air bubbles.
Wait, what? Air bubbles are going to tame hurricanes? Listen to what the researchers have to say before you dismiss them as wild-eyed radicals who may have imbibed too much aquavit during those cold Nordic nights. Hurricanes form when warm and cold air masses collide over warm ocean waters. Studies show ocean temperatures need to be at least 26.5° C in order for the storms to begin. So what if there was a way to cool the surface temperature of the ocean below that point? Wouldn’t that keep hurricanes from getting started?
In the past, people have suggested towing icebergs to areas of warm water or seeding the clouds above with sea salt to reduce the amount of sunlight warming the water below. The researchers at SINTEF think they have a better, more practical solution that might actually work — curtains composed of millions of air bubbles. The approach is already working to keep ice out of the fjords in Norway. Shipyards use bubble curtains to keep ice from forming around the hulls of boats during the winter. Air bubbles released deep in the ocean where temperatures are cooler would propel some of that colder water to the surface, where it would lower the average temperature of the water at the interface between the ocean below and the sky above.
Katrina Was The Key
“It all began in 2005 when hurricane Katrina swept over New Orleans, taking with it many thousands of human lives”, says Olav Hollingsæter, founder of the company OceanTherm. “The hurricane’s strength was the result of high seawater temperatures, and my first thought was that we should be able to do something about this,” he says. He got in touch with SINTEF, where scientists were already working with air curtains as a way of controlling oil spills.
“Our system represents no obstruction to shipping and can be implemented at both small and large scales,” says Grim Eidnes, senior research scientist at SINTEF Ocean. He suggests the Gulf of Mexico would be a good place to test the technology. “We can deploy bubble curtains based on oil production platforms,” he says. There are more than 4,000 oil platforms in the Gulf today. “It’s also possible to deploy large scale systems, for example by installing pipes across the entire Yucatan Strait, or extending them from the mainland along the coast. There is no shortage of possibilities,” says Eidnes.
Big Benefits At A Small Cost
“The cost-benefit potential of the SINTEF project is very great,” says Hollingsæter. “The most intense hurricanes cause communities major material damage and, in some cases, many lives are lost. This project is both meaningful and important. I hope and believe that we will succeed.” The research is being supported by Innovation Norway and ongoing funding from the Research Council of Norway may be forthcoming.
If there is a lesson to be learned from this story, it is that other nations are more interested than the US in preventing damage from hurricanes in North America. What better indication could there be that the American government has been hijacked by fossil fuel interests whose only goal is to gorge themselves on petrodollars while poisoning hundreds of millions of people every year and putting the entire planet in jeopardy? In a rational world, the leaders of the fossil fuel industry would be in jail for their crimes against humanity. They will be judged harshly by history for their actions.