3 Ways to Prevent Hurricanes (Maybe)

published on August 1, 2020

This episode is made in partnership with cisco global problem solvers the series this animated series features a team of teenagers tackling some of the world's toughest problems like how to handle the aftermath of hurricanes it aims to

Encourage 4th through 8th grade students to think of themselves as global citizens and to develop their problem-solving skills and use technology for social good click the link in the description to learn

More in august 1992 hurricane andrew flattened the bahamas and smashed into the coast of florida and louisiana some 70 000 acres of trees were destroyed

And more than a quarter million people were left homeless hurricanes like andrew are outliers of course but every year similar powerful storms from katrina to sandy threaten communities around the

World and they're especially damaging to people living in poverty as they often don't have the means to abandon everything when a storm's brewing or rebuild in the aftermath

Unfortunately evidence is mounting that climate change could be making these storms even more violent but what if there was a way to just make hurricanes go away or at least make them weaker it

Sounds like science fiction but hurricane prevention might be more possible than you think first though let's get our terminology straight the scientific term for these powerful storms is

Tropical cyclones hurricanes are tropical cyclones that happen in the atlantic or the east pacific oceans typhoons are ones that happen in the northern west pacific ocean same physics just different names

Depending on what continent they're hitting how they form is not something that scientists totally understand and what we do know isn't super straightforward but they're sure that by far the most important factor is the

Temperature of the water at the ocean's surface cyclones can only form if that water is above 265 degrees celsius or about 80 degrees fahrenheit since water holds a lot of heat energy

That warm surface can heat up the air above it and the simplified version of what happens from there is that this hot air rises as it rises it cools and condenses into powerful thunder clouds cooler air from elsewhere

In the atmosphere then rushes in to fill the void left behind it too heats up and the cycle starts once again eventually producing a mega-sized storm in fact hurricanes and typhoons are sometimes

Described as heat engines since the process can be self-sustaining once it gets going well then how do we prevent them to stop an engine you remove its fuel so to stop a cyclone

You take away its warm water one way we might do that is marine cloud brightening essentially you fly airplanes above the tropical areas where hurricanes and typhoons form each plane

Sprays out a mist of sea water behind it and those droplets filled with little bits of salt form nuclei for condensation of new cloud particles that can bulk up lighter fluffier clouds these denser

Whiter clouds reflect more sunlight back towards space and with less light hitting the ocean surface there'd be a smaller chance that the water reaches that critical 265 degree temperature

Needed for cyclone formation a similar idea called stratospheric aerosol injection takes this principle and expands it to the whole planet instead of bulking up clouds one by one

Special high altitude planes could pump gases like sulfur dioxide into the upper atmosphere that's a gas often released during volcanic eruptions and it can be extremely effective at reflecting sunlight

We know this because major eruptions in the past have had measurable effects on global temperature and led to temporary reductions in tropical cyclones after a 1912 eruption in alaska for instance

The world experienced the fewest hurricanes and typhoons ever recorded both of these ideas rely on nature doing our work for us though what if we acted more directly that's where bubble curtains could come into

Play a bubble curtain is made by injecting air bubbles deep underwater as the bubbles rise to the surface they form moving curtains which carry with them some of the deeper water if

This was done in areas where tropical cyclones often form they could drag up cooler water to help lower the temperature at the surface and again no warm water no cyclone the neat thing is that unlike marine cloud

Brightening or stratospheric aerosol injection this is already an established technology in norway it's used in reverse to bubble up warm water in the winter to

Clear ice from fjords but even so it isn't likely to be put into practice for hurricane prevention right away you can lump the obstacles to all three of these measures into two main categories the first

Is cost tropical cyclones form over huge regions of ocean so we would have to deploy countermeasures in vast quantities the us national oceanic and atmospheric

Administration estimates that to make a bubble curtain that effectively protects the us gulf coast it would need to extend over something like 850 000 square kilometers in one study

Investigating global aerosol injection assumed we would need to disperse 5 million metric tons of sulfur dioxide per year that could require tens of thousands of flights every year for decades

Just to slow the rate of increase in global temperature let alone actually cool things down enough to prevent tropical cyclones what's more even a successful program would be

Wasteful because strong cyclones are the exception rather than the norm i mean of the around 80 tropical disturbances that form over the atlantic ocean in an average year

Only five or so develop into storms that threaten the us maybe the bigger obstacle though is the collateral effects of large-scale action like if we do manage to successfully change the water

Temperature across a huge swath of ocean what does that mean for the ecosystems there given that the people most hard-hit by tropical cyclones worldwide are also more likely to rely on marine

Protein sources we'd want to be careful about doing anything that could negatively impact aquatic habitats similarly while whitening clouds could meaningfully reduce the number of hurricanes and

Typhoons there's also a significant chance it would dramatically affect other ecosystems for instance one study noted it'd likely reduce the amount of rainfall in the amazon

Rainforest and given what climate change is teaching us about our interconnected world that kind of trade-off may not be worth making so yeah it might be possible to dissipate hurricanes but we've got other

Safer ways to deal with the threats they pose which are already at work like we've gotten really good at predicting where those storms will go and bracing for their impact that's already saving lives at a fraction of

The cost and if we can do an even better job of implementing forecasting technologies and helping those who are most affected by big storms then completely preventing tropical cyclones won't be necessary thanks for

Watching this episode of scishow if you or any kids in your life like thinking about how to solve problems like this you might be interested in today's sponsor cisco global problem solvers the series

Aims to inspire 4th through 8th grade students to become well global problem solvers it encourages them to think of themselves as global citizens developing skills like critical thinking

And teamwork in season two learn how the team uses business skills and tech to get students back to learning after a hurricane hits the us gulf coast if you want to check it out we've

Linked to the series here and if you're interested you can also access teachers guides with discussion topics and worksheets by clicking the link in the description

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