The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
Scientists think they know, in principle, how to tame hurricanes and reduce storm surge risks.
A huge ash plume rises from the Mount Pinatubo volcanic eruption in 1991. Photo credit: Ed Wolfe / U.S. Geological Survey
All it would take would be a stratosphere full of sulphate aerosols sufficient to dim the sun, lower tropic ocean temperatures and reduce the hazard of the kind of windstorm that hit New York in 2012 and New Orleans in 2005 with devastating consequences.
Hurricanes are likely to impose increasing costs as the planet’s climate changes. However, there is a little more to the solution than a simple darkening of the upper skies.
The quantities of sulphate discharge needed to make a difference would be the equivalent of the catastrophic Mount Pinatubo volcanic eruption that scorched the Philippines in 1991. And there could also be other unwelcome consequences.
Test of Hypothesis
Polar scientist John Moore and colleagues reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that their exercise was a test of a hypothesis: a “qualitative indication” that geoengineering could help reduce hurricanes.
Co-author Ben Kravitz, a climate scientist at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in the U.S., said: “We’re looking at possibilities now, in case the world needs these options down the road.”
As humans continue to burn fossil fuels, levels of greenhouse gases will build up in the lower atmosphere, global average temperatures will rise and heatwaves, floods and windstorms could become more frequent, more intense or both.
So the hurricane-suppressing scientists worked entirely from climate simulations to see if eruptions could in fact calm some of the weather extremes predicted under climate change.
New Orleans devastated by floods after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005. Photo credit: NOAA Aviation Weather Center / Wikimedia Commons
Although climate scientists have repeatedly said that only a sharp reduction in carbon dioxide emissions will have any impact in the long run, a number of groups have tested the other possible answer: the considered and wilful alteration of the planet’s climate through geoengineering.
The results so far have been either mixed or downright unpromising. Scientists have looked at the idea of “whitening” the Arctic to prevent the loss of ice; they have explored the idea of tapping energy from the oceans to reduce global temperatures; and they have confirmed that sulphate aerosol discharges could severely disrupt world rainfall patterns and make things worse for millions.
The limited case of hurricane control, however, suggests that it might be effective—if expensive.
To mimic the effect of a Pinatubo-type eruption, researchers would have to lift to airliner altitudes roughly a quarter of all the sulphates produced by human industry in any one year.
In the lower atmosphere, these cause respiratory illnesses. At altitude, these could lower the global temperature by about half a degree Celsius for a year or two.
But they could also affect the monsoon rain system that nourishes hundreds of millions in Asia, and they could damage the ozone layer that screens most humans from harmful ultraviolet radiation.
Over time, it would reduce sea surface temperatures and reduce the probability of Katrina-scale hurricanes and devastating storm surges of the kind that swept through New York and New Orleans in the company of the hurricane-force winds.
Benefits and Risks
But that wouldn’t mean it was a safe option. “This is a narrow study,” Kravitz says. “Geoengineering researchers have to very carefully categorize the other benefits and risks, and hand off that information to the decision makers.”
Coincidentally, another study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal confirms that real volcanic eruptions, if they happened in the summertime, could not only cool the northern hemisphere, but also possibly generate an El Niño pattern in the Pacific and even have an impact on ocean currents in the Atlantic.
Since El Niño is linked to devastating floods on the west coast of the Americas and drought and fires in the Indonesian rainforests, and since the Atlantic currents are an integral part of the European climate machinery, the consequences might go far beyond hurricane control.
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
A middle-aged married couple in China was diagnosed with pneumonic plague, a highly infectious disease similar to bubonic plague, which ravaged Europe in the middle ages, as CNN reported.
Dairy aisles have exploded with milk and milk alternative options over the past few years, and choosing the healthiest milk isn't just about the fat content.
Whether you're looking beyond cow's milk for health reasons or dietary preferences or simply want to experiment with different options, you may wonder which type of milk is healthiest for you.
At least 1,688 dams across the U.S. are in such a hazardous condition that, if they fail, could force life-threatening floods on nearby homes, businesses, infrastructure or entire communities, according to an in-depth analysis of public records conducted by the the Associated Press.
By Sabrina Kessler
Far-reaching allegations about how a climate-sinning American multinational could shamelessly lie to the public about its wrongdoing mobilized a small group of New York students on a cold November morning. They stood in front of New York's Supreme Court last week to follow the unprecedented lawsuit against ExxonMobil.
By Alex Robinson
Leah Garcés used to hate poultry farmers.
The animal rights activist, who opposes factory farming, had an adversarial relationship with chicken farmers until around five years ago, when she sat down to listen to one. She met a poultry farmer called Craig Watts in rural North Carolina and learned that the problems stemming from factory farming extended beyond animal cruelty.
Temperatures plunged rapidly across the U.S. this week and around 70 percent of the population is expected to experience temperatures around freezing Wednesday.