Science

Could air bubbles prevent tropical cyclones?

Could air bubbles prevent trop...
Hurricane Katrina, seen here, is tied with Hurricane Harvey as being the costliest tropical cyclone on record
Hurricane Katrina, seen here, is tied with Hurricane Harvey as being the costliest tropical cyclone on record
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Hurricane Katrina, seen here, is tied with Hurricane Harvey as being the costliest tropical cyclone on record
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Hurricane Katrina, seen here, is tied with Hurricane Harvey as being the costliest tropical cyclone on record

Depending on where in the world they occur, tropical cyclones are also known as hurricanes or typhoons. No matter what you call them, though, they're caused by the evaporation of warm ocean surface water. Norwegian scientists are now looking at stopping them, by using bubbles to cool that water down.

The idea was first conceived of by Olav Hollingsæter, founder of the company OceanTherm AS, after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans. He contacted Norwegian research group SINTEF about developing the concept further, resulting in preliminary studies that are now underway.

Basically, the idea is that perforated pipes will be lowered into the ocean, in areas where tropical cyclones are likely to occur. Air will then be continuously pumped through these horizontally-laid pipes, causing them to release a sheet of bubbles known as a "bubble curtain."

As these bubble curtains rise to the surface, they will bring cold water from the depths up with them, thereby cooling the surface water to a temperature below 26.5° C (79.7 ºF) – that's the minimum water temperature at which the storms can form.

The pipes could conceivably be deployed from offshore oil rigs, or simply run out into the ocean from the shore.

"Our initial investigations show that the pipes must be located at between 100 and 150 meters depth [328 and 492 ft] in order to extract water that is cold enough," says SINTEF scientist Grim Eidnes. "By bringing this water to the surface using the bubble curtains, the surface temperature will fall to below 26.5° C, thus cutting off the hurricane's energy supply. This method will allow us quite simply to prevent hurricanes from achieving life-threatening intensities."

SINTEF has previously experimented with using bubble curtains to contain oil spills. And back in 2010, Japanese manufacturing firm Ise Kogyo revealed its concept for preventing typhoons by using a fleet of submarines to pump cold water up to the surface.

Source: Gemini

12 comments
highlandboy
Novel idea. Cyclones move accumulated heat energy away from the earths surface to areas high in the earths atmosphere where it can more freely radiate into space. The surface of the clouds also reflect some solar energy. But if we retain all the extra energy close to the earths surface (mixing it with cooler water pumped from below), will this not increase the average ocean surface temperature over a larger area. This would in turn increase the area that is close to the temperature at which cyclones form. While this may spread the risk, it also may alter existing weather patterns. Though if the first world can reduce its risk at the expense of 3rd world countries, I doubt if that would stop them.
ThomasEdwardMiller
I would say rather increase evaporation and rain. The formation of rain moves heat from the surface to higher up, because evaporation occurs at the surface (making it colder) and condensation occurs higher up where clouds form (releasing heat). The clouds can then radiate heat to space and reflect solar energy that would have warmed the ocean. So have floating heat pumps that extract heat from the ocean surface and put the heat into the air. The heated air will rise causing clouds and convectional rain. The rain will cool the ocean surface.
Brian M
@Highlandboy Indeed a novel idea, and suspect your concerns are real, but maybe it could be trialled and if adverse effects occur switched off again. Third world countries tend to suffer more damage/loss of life than developed countries, so if it did work without side effects then developing countries would also benefit.
Bob
What would be the effect on marine life? This could really throw climate change into overdrive or at the least be used as a weapon to cause selective droughts. It would also require a great deal of energy to pump that much air into the ocean. It would be better to redesign land based structures which need to be replaced every 40 years anyway.
Darus Zehrbach
It is an extremely poor and inefficient idea. This is basically a bubble aerator on steroids. But it has huge problems for the same reason the aerators work poorly -- The air has to be compressed at huge cost. Better to just forget the air and pump the water to the surface. But then though pumping water is much more efficient than compressing and pumping air to over 250 psi, you are still driving pumps. Who pays that bill?
Douglas Bennett Rogers
Lowering the path length water over the desert would increase the radiant emittance of the Earth and lower the total energy.
CharlieSeattle
2000 mile long X 500 mile wide bubble grid of pipes? Not feasible at all. This is a better idea. A biodegradable floating chaff mat spread by planes in the path of a forming storm will reflect sunlight, thus cooling the ocean surface ahead of it.
PhilDor
First this idea can't work because air bubbles releases from perforated pipes will not move the water upwards but instead displace the water laterally; the principle is used in aquaculture with the bubbles released inside a pipe called air-lift, which in this case would need to be hundreds of feet long! Second, installing permanent air-lifts in the ocean over an area several hundreds of kilometers in diameter is simply inconceivable. Get real!
Fritz
My idea is to have upwind power plants in the Caribbean. Through "chimneys" the warm humid and lightweight air in the Caribbean could escape through "chimneys" the cold air layer above it. It would be enough to have those up wind power plants a few 100m high.
Fritz
Dear folks, Simply to guide humid air upwards chimney like, to break through the cold layer. This phenomena that the cold, dry, heavy air layer is a b o v e the warm, humid light layer happens every year in the Mexico Gulf - Caribbean area in later summer. Because of this the water gets warmer and warmer. Finally a thermic bulb is big enough not only to blubber through the cold layer, but to cause a chimney - this is how the hurricane starts. My suggestion is to install a "permanent" hurricane - as upwind power plant. I would use a HELIOFLOAT.com as platform