The United States is in the middle of hurricane season. Isaac hit the country's south last week, inundating acres of land, wrecking homes, and disrupting oil and gas production. It's a stark reminder of the Katrina disaster and yet another warning of catastrophes to come.
Now, imagine if the President of the United States had the weapons to order a strike against the destructive forces that can dramatically affect millions of citizens everywhere. Scientists say that this will be possible soon — using drones.
Researchers at the University of Leeds have discovered a way to lower the intensity of hurricanes by using a new technique that takes out the energy this meteorological phenomenon needs to feed itself. According to Dr Alan Gadian from the School of Earth and Environment at the University of Leeds:
Hurricanes derive their energy from the heat contained in the surface waters of the ocean. If we are able to increase the amount of sunlight reflected by clouds above the hurricane development region then there will be less energy to feed the hurricanes.
Their technique, created after a climate ocean atmosphere coupling model called HadGEM1, is called Marine Cloud Brightening. It will use drones to "spray tiny seawater droplets, a good fraction of which would rise into the clouds above [the hurricane]". These clouds will take the power away from the hurricane, bouncing sunlight back to space and reducing the sea surface temperature.
According to the researchers' calculations, this technique would reduce the violence of the hurricane by a category. This is a phenomenal change that can basically transform potential disasters into more manageable storms:
Data shows that over the last three decades hurricane intensity has increased in the Northern Atlantic, the Indian and South-West Pacific Oceans. We simulated the impact of seeding on these three areas, with particular focus on the Atlantic hurricane months of August, September and October.
Of course, climate being an extremely complex model, Marine Cloud Brightening can have ramifications. One could be affecting rainfall in neighbouring regions, like a reduction of rain in the Amazon basin. The team says that they can control this by careful seeding, but they will not start testing it until they are 100-percent sure that it is completely safe. That said, however, they believe they are on the right track:
Much more research is needed and we are clear that cloud seeding should not be deployed until we are sure there will be no adverse consequences regarding rainfall. However if our calculations are correct, judicious seeding of maritime clouds could be invaluable for significantly reducing the destructive power of future hurricanes.
We can only hope this is the case.