It looks like Bill Gates has decided to take on one of Mother Nature’s most powerful weapons–hurricanes.  Gates and a team of twelve others are listed as the inventors on five patent applications filed January 3, 2008.  Those applications are directed to methods for preventing or controlling hurricanes by altering the temperature of surface water in the ocean.  Hurricanes draw energy from the heat released by water vapor condensing at high altitudes.  The basic idea behind the methods disclosed in the applications is using conduits extending from seagoing vessels to mix cold water from beneath the ocean’s surface with warm surface water.  The applications discuss two main ways of doing this: pushing warm surface water down so that the lower depths of the ocean act as a heat sink, and bringing cold water from deep in the ocean to the surface.

The applications were filed by Searete, a company associated with Intellectual Ventures, which was itself founded by former Microsoft executives.  Intellectual Ventures is an “invention acquisition and development firm” that has come under fire from critics who describe it as a patent troll.  The company doesn’t expect that the hurricane prevention and control patents will be granted for at least another eighteen months, but some are skeptical of whether the methods would actually work.  The basic idea is plausible, but there’s a huge scale problem; hurricanes can be as big as 600 miles across, so the fleet of vessels would have to cover a very large area and mix a large volume of water to reduce the surface temperature by a significant enough amount.

Although it’s probably highly unlikely that humans could actually prevent a hurricane using these methods or others that have been suggested over the years, anything that could weaken a hurricane so that it causes less destruction would certainly be a beneficial invention.

Allyson Brown

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