Tame Storms with Cold Water
A million straws could mellow the next Katrina
Where: Gulf of Mexico
Cost: $5 billion
Climate change is warming the oceans. Warm oceans fuel hurricanes, which draw their energy from the heated, moist air at the sea surface. As sea temperatures continue to rise, some scientists warn that tropical storms will intensify.
**The Fix **
Cool down the warm surface water that storms need to grow. New Mexico inventor Phil Kithil wants to put 1.6 million ocean-cooling “pumps” into the Gulf of Mexico, anchor them to the seafloor, and watch as they turn category-4 whoppers into category 3s, and 3s into 2s. It would take four months, some 100 barges and $5 billion to install, but once in place, the 1,000-mile-long band of water coolers would kick in whenever a storm started brewing.
Next month, Kithil will set sail for Bermuda with 10 of his wave-powered pumps and attempt to cool a one-third-square-mile patch of sea. Dropped from the deck of his ship, spools of barrel-width flexible tubing will unravel to form 650-foot-long cylinders. These are topped by buoys that bob up and down with each passing wave and drive pumps that draw cool, nutrient-rich water up from the deep ocean. Bigger waves mean more cooling, and, conveniently, big waves precede hurricanes. “So we get cooling only when we want cooling,” Kithil says, “when there’s a hurricane on the horizon.”
His company, Atmocean, has already tested individual pumps, and they temporarily lowered surface temperature by 7F. The results might not be so dramatic in the large-scale trial, but models show that even a 1F drop would reduce hurricane winds by 5 percent. According to Kithil, a drop in wind speed from 120 to 110 mph would reduce property damage by 23 percent.
Kithil’s team will measure the effects on marine life. They hypothesize that the water’s increased nutrient levels will improve the health of the ocean food chain and possibly enhance the ocean’s natural ability to sequester carbon by encouraging the growth of plankton (also a food source for fish) near the sea surface.