The Hurricane “Vaccine”

The swaths of ocean around the world where cyclonic storms form as the surface temperature rises. (Credit: NASA/GODDARD SPACE FLIGHT CENTER SCIENTIFIC VISUALIZATION STUDIO)

Parts of the East Coast are still recovering from the destruction of Hurricane Irene. The storm wreaked havoc, causing more than 40 deaths and billions of dollars in damages. One thing that is striking about hurricanes is that, even after years of study, all we really know how to do is deal with the symptoms; we don’t actually have a way to treat the disease itself.

So what if there were a hurricane “vaccine”?

This week on Marketplace, Stephen J. Dubner and Kai Ryssdal talk about the Salter Sink, an invention from Nathan Myhrvold and Intellectual Ventures that could possibly prevent future storms. Here’s where to find Marketplace on the radio near you.

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  1. nobody.really says:

    However, speaking of unanticipated consequences ….

    Alarm bells go off in my mind when I hear people discussing a policy built on the assumption that we can consume an effectively infinite amount of something. John Locke built his theory of private (real) property on the idea that there was an infinite supply of land, and therefore the act of any one person claiming land to himself had only a negligible effect on the supply of land available for another. A pretty goofy idea in an otherwise thoughtful philosophy.

    We hunted whales (and other animals) with an abandon reflecting a view that the supply of them was basically infinite. And who could blame us? To suggest that mere man could influence the content of the oceans would have seemed crazy. Until recently we pumped oil from the ground and water from our aquifers with a similar disregard. Not so much anymore.

    Geothermal heating is premised on the unstated assumption that the earth’s thermal sink is effectively infinite, and wind turbines are premised on the unstated assumption that wind energy is effectively infinite. The supply of this energy is so vast that we can extract it at will without consequence. And maybe that’s so. Alternatively….

    So when I read about stirring the ocean, I wonder about the consequences of altering the stratification of the ocean temperatures. I expect many people would scoff at the suggestion that Salter Sinks would have any appreciable effect on raising the temperature of the ocean depths. And they may be right. But if Salter Sinks worked, I could imagine us coming to rely on them more and more; we could end up with more of them than we ever imagined.

    It would be comforting to learn that someone had studied this contingency.

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  2. Matthew says:

    I hate the white-washing here of notoriously evil patent-troll Nathan M here. This is like having Bernie Madoff on the line as an investment consultant.

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  3. AaronS says:

    While the temperature of the surface water would be cooled, that water at depth would be slightly warmed. In time, that might have the ecosystem effects…or, worse, warm ocean currents that then travel to northern climes. These currents, now slightly warmer, will affect the glaciers and ice caps more drastically, raising sea levels.

    At least one would think that might happen.

    At the same time, I really like this idea. A few things I would add:

    1) Make the Salter Sinks so that, say, a boat could dock alongside and people could fish from these “floating circular piers.”

    2) If the bottom of the tube could be meshed, then when it is unfolded, there would be no fish inside, hence no sharks inside, hence a great place to swim (except it would be very deep–unless you put in another mesh maybe ten feet below the surface). A truly portable beach.

    3) Wouldn’t you need lights and so forth so that, at night, a boat didn’t run aground?

    4) These rings could be used, perhaps, as fisheries (but would have to be guarded). That might make for better fishing in the Gulf.

    5) Put electronics on them and we can gauge wind speed, wave height, earthquakes, tsunami alerts, and so forth.

    The truth is that NO MATTER WHAT WE DO, there will be unintended consequences. Some of the good, some of them bad.

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  4. Jason says:

    It’s a terrible idea. They might be destructive, but they also bring much needed water to the entire east coast. Without hurricanes, we fall into a drought. Actually, I would love to see that theory worked out here with numbers. But they are essential to North America…

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  5. Dayana, says:

    why did you change the theme!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!

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