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[Op-Ed] Bill Gates Takes on Hurricanes

Posted July. 17, 2009 07:37,   


In ancient times, those capable of making astronomical observations and weather forecasting took power. This is because humans were largely dependent on the weather at the time. For this reason, people have tried to control the weather. Medieval times saw the use of cannons and church bells to bring rain. Seeing that rain falls after thunder rolls, they thought a roaring sound could induce rain. Such efforts developed into cloud seeding in modern times.

Though there is no limit to technological development, the idea of controlling hurricanes with technology sounds farfetched. Not if the idea is presented by Bill Gates, however. The Microsoft founder has taken up the challenge of reining in hurricanes that wreak havoc on the southeastern United Sates every year. He has applied for a patent for hurricane control technology under the name Searete, a sub-entity of Intellectual Ventures, an invention acquisition and development company founded by Microsoft’s former chief technology officer Nathan Myhrvold.

Tropical storms that develop into hurricanes are formed when air warmed in waters with a surface temperature exceeding 27 degrees Celsius and mixed with vapor rises and generates a depression. Vapor in an ascending air current gains momentum by being condensed into water. Gates and his co-inventors seek to drop the water surface’s temperature with colder water pumped up from the deep sea using their invention. This is to cut off energy sources for hurricanes by cooling the ocean’s surface.

Gates is not the first to propose preventing hurricanes. From the 1960s to the 1980s, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration pushed a “stormfury” project. The failed project tried to lessen the severity of storms by sprinkling silver iodide and dry ice over clouds. Certain scientists have proposed using hydrogen bombs to drive hurricanes away outside the continent. Though invisible, oceans have roads called currents. Meteorologists say Gates’ idea will shake such an oceanic system. Hopefully, he can bring about a revolution in disaster prevention as he did in information technology.

Editorial Writer Chung Sung-hee (shchung@donga.com)