Devastating tropical storms of the kind that battered the US last week could be weakened and rendered less deadly using a simple and cheap technology based on a surprising component — old car tyres.
One of Britain's leading marine engineers, Stephen Salter, emeritus professor of engineering design at Edinburgh university and a global pioneer of wave power research, has patented with Microsoft billionaires Bill Gates and Nathan Myhrvold the idea of using thousands of tyres lashed together to support giant plastic tubes which extend 100m deep into the ocean.
Wave action on the ocean surface would force warm surface water down into the deeper ocean. If non-return valves were used, he says, the result would be to mix the waters and cool the surface temperature of the ocean to under 26.5C, the critical temperature at which hurricanes form.
According to Salter, harnessing energy from the waves to cool the surface temperature of the ocean makes ecological sense. The naturally working pumps would be located in "hurricane alley", the warm corridor in the Atlantic through which the most damaging storms develop and pass. Salter claims that the hydrological problems have been solved but that research funding is urgently needed. "If you can cool the sea surface, you would calm the hurricanes. I estimate you would need about 150-450 of these structures. They would drift around and send out radar signals so that no one would collide with them," he said. The idea of what is now known as the "Salter Sink" was first presented to the United States government in 2007 at a meeting on hurricane suppression.
It was picked up and developed by Intellectual Ventures, a Seattle-based new tech company run by Myhrvold and backed by Gates which buys and licenses patents and inventions. Research into hurricane suppression is considered urgent by the US government because seven of the 10 costliest hurricanes to hit the US have struck since 2004. Hurricane Sandy has caused approximately $30bn of damage.
Hurricane suppression ideas go back more than 100 years but attempts have mostly proved tragicomic: Ideas have included setting up rows of cannon on the Florida coast to shoot them down; using laser beams from space; and "seeding" them with silver iodide. - GNS