Cloud seeding could take punch out of hurricanes
This August 26, 2012 GOES-East satellite image released by NOAA shows Tropical Storm Isaac (C) at 18:25 UTC. (AFP)
As tropical storm Isaac pounces on the central Gulf Coast, scientists say they know how to rob the breath out of deadly hurricanes. Or at least steal their food.
In a paper published in the journal Atmospheric Science Letters, researchers propose cloud seeding across areas where hurricanes form, even before they start whipping themselves into frenzy.
The method would decrease temperatures on the surface of the sea to reduce the energy of gathering storms. In theory, this could cut the intensity of a hurricane by a full category.
Instead of trying to tackle the major storms directly, Dr. Alan Gadian, of the School of Earth and Environment at the University of Leeds, in the U.K., suggests playing with the marine stratocumulus clouds that cover a quarter of the world's oceans.
Hurricanes pull energy from the heat found in the surface water of oceans.
"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," Gadian theorizes.
The solution would involve unmanned planes spraying tiny seawater droplets -- a good amount rising back into the clouds.
More sunlight would be bounced back into space, and the water temperature would be cooled.
Cloud seeding is nothing new. The Chinese reportedly did it to calm the skies over Beijing during the 2008 Summer Olympics.
Hurricane data shows storms have increased in intensity in the North Atlantic, the Indian and South-West Pacific Oceans over the past three decades.
Gadian's team simulated the impact of seeding over these three vast areas, and found they could rob hurricanes of a good deal of punch.
But fooling around in one area could have an impact on another, the scientists admit. For example, cloud seeding over the Atlantic could see a reduction of rainfall in the Amazon basin.
So different patterns of rainfall would have to be used, the researchers have concluded.
Gadian says the theory isn't proven enough to try out on Isaac, pointing out: "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."