According to a recent study led by the University of Miami, even if we did have the infinite power to artificially cool enough of the ocean to weaken a hurricane, the benefits would be minimal. By using sophisticated computer simulations, the experts found that even the energy alone which would be necessary to weaken hurricanes before landfall makes it a highly inefficient method to mitigate such natural disasters.
“The main result from our study is that massive amounts of artificially cooled water would be needed for only a modest weakening in hurricane intensity before landfall,” said study lead author James Hlywiak, a postdoctoral fellow in Marine, Atmospheric, and Earth Science at the University of Miami.
“Plus, weakening the intensity by marginal amounts doesn’t necessarily mean that the likelihood for inland damages and safety risks would decrease as well. While any amount of weakening before landfall is a good thing, for these reasons it makes more sense to direct focus towards adaptation strategies such as reinforcing infrastructure, improving the efficiency of evacuation procedures, and advancing the science around detection and prediction of impending storms.”
By using a combination of air-sea interaction theories and a state-of-the-art computer model of the atmosphere, the researchers estimated whether cooling areas of the ocean up to 260,000 km2 in size – larger than the state of Oregon and equating to 21,000 cubic kilometers of water – by up to two degrees Celsius, would considerably weaken possible hurricanes. Their analysis revealed that, even with the largest area of cooling, the simulated hurricanes would weaken only by 15 percent. Moreover, the amount of energy needed to achieve such a small reduction would be the equivalent to over 100 times the amount consumed across the entire U.S. in 2019 alone.
“You might think that the main finding of our article, that it’s pointless to try to weaken hurricanes, should be obvious,” said study senior author David Nolan, a professor of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Miami. “And yet, various ideas for hurricane modification appear often in popular media and are even submitted for patents every few years. We’re happy to be able to put something into the peer-reviewed literature that actually addresses this.”
The study is published in the journal Nature Communications Earth & Environment.