Home Science Can a Bubble Net Stop a Hurricane? Some Norwegians Think So

Can a Bubble Net Stop a Hurricane? Some Norwegians Think So

Eric Niiler

Such a project would take tens of millions of dollars, but a pilot project to prove its feasibility would cost considerably less, according to OceanTherm officials. The company has received some grant money from the Norwegian government to construct additional computer simulations about how the bubble device might work in the ocean, and they are looking for investors in the US willing to support an experimental project.

Nobody has ever tried to lasso a hurricane with a bubble net—or anything else, for that matter—although OceanTherm’s CEO believes it’s worth exploring. “We can foresee a fleet of 20 ships with compressors and generators would be able to prevent a warm current from fueling the hurricane,” Hollingsæter says. “When hurricanes are large like Laura, they are very difficult to manage. But they are small in the beginning. If we are there and we can see a hurricane coming into a large area with hot water, we can work slowly over a period to stop the water from being so hot. Then maybe then the hurricane will maybe be more of a low-pressure system coming in.”

The idea of manipulating a hurricane has its origins in efforts that date back to the post-World War II years, when Pentagon officials believed they could alter the weather with nuclear weapons, according to Fleming. Proponents such as Teller believed that smaller bombs could be used to dig harbors in Alaska, shave off the Santa Barbara Mountains to reduce air pollution in Los Angeles, or even destroy a hurricane, says Fleming, author of the book Fixing the Sky: The Checkered History of Weather and Climate Control.

The concept of nuking a hurricane was actually first raised during a speech by Julian Huxley (brother of Aldous and a noted eugenicist) during a speech to more than 18,000 people in Madison Square Garden on December 3, 1945. Huxley proposed using nuclear weapons to control the environment. Later, the military began studying the idea seriously. Although the plan never got off the ground, it did result in something called Project Cirrus. In October, 1947, Hurricane King was moving off the South Carolina coast, losing energy. As part of Project Cirrus, military officials decided to drop silver iodide or dry ice into the storm to promote ice crystals and perhaps weaken the storm even further. A B-17 dumped 180 pounds of dry ice into the storm clouds—but something else happened. The storm intensified, made a U-turn, and headed straight for Savannah, Georgia. According to this 2017 account in The Atlantic, it killed one person and racked up $ 3 million in property damages.

Meteorologists eventually concluded that the cloud seeding didn’t affect the storm, but the negative publicity delayed any more cloud seeding experiments for another 20 years. The idea was revived between the mid-1960s through the early 1980s by scientists at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration who actively pursued hurricane modification through Project STORMFURY, which also was designed to seed clouds with silver iodide, creating ice crystals. The problem was that after collecting data, the atmospheric researchers discovered that hurricane systems already include ice crystals, so they couldn’t really tell if the ones they added changed anything.

Bomb expert Edward Teller brought up the nuclear option against hurricanes several times, most recently in a 1990 speech. It was never seriously tested or considered, although President Donald Trump reportedly asked aides whether bombing hurricanes was possible on two separate White House conversations, according to an Axios report from August 2019.

Fleming notes that dropping a nuclear weapon in a hurricane would be a violation of existing treaties between the US and Russia. “If you did nuke a hurricane, you would scatter radioactivity everywhere,” says Fleming. “And there would be a litigious trail along the hurricane’s path.”

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