Another Look at an Unorthodox Hurricane-Prevention Idea

Very interesting backgrounder on Stephen Salter, the British scientist who, in the course of trying to turn ocean waves into electric power, discovered a potential way to prevent, or at least limit, the impact of hurricanes:

Devastating tropical storms of the kind that battered the U.S. 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.

This is the same hurricane-prevention invention we discussed in a brief Freakonomics Radio segment and in greater depth in SuperFreakonomics:

FREAK-est Links

1. Just published: Rough Beasts, Charles Siebert's new e-book on the Zanesville Zoo Massacre.

2. Chris Sprigman on software patents.

3. 36 bizarre economic indicators. (HT: V. Brenner)

4. Nathan Myhrvold's absurdly prolific and diverse output can now be sampled in one place, on his new website. Also, his award-winning six-volume $625 cookbook Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking has just been repurposed into a one-volume edition (retailing for just $140) called Modernist Cuisine at Home.

The New Yorker Geoengineers Itself

Michael Specter has written a good and interesting New Yorker article about the history and current state of geoengineering, called "The Climate Fixers: Is There a Technological Solution to Global Warming?"

Let me rephrase:

Michael Specter has written a good and interesting New Yorker article about the history and current state of geoengineering, called "The Climate Fixers: Is There a Technological Solution to Global Warming?," which is essentially a New Yorkerized version of Chapter 5 of SuperFreakonomics, all the way down to the Mount Pinatubo explosion and the reliance on scientists Ken Caldeira and Nathan Myhrvold.

Should We Be Searching for Dinosaur Vomit?

Yes! That's the argument in a new Historical Biology paper called "A Call to Search for Fossilized Gastric Pellets." Here's the abstract:

Numerous extant carnivorous, piscivorous and insectivorous species – including birds, pinnipeds, varanid lizards and crocodiles and mammals – routinely ingest food combined with a high proportion of indigestible material that can be neither absorbed through digestion nor eliminated as faecal matter. Their solution is to egest the indigestible portion through the mouth as a gastric pellet. The status of gastric pellets in extant species is reviewed. Arguments based on phylogeny, anatomy and biomechanics strongly suggest that many extinct species, including crocodilians and pterosaurs, may also have produced gastric pellets routinely.

The Hurricane "Vaccine"

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"?

FREAK-est Links

This week: Researchers say it pays to be loyal; are ovulating women better at detecting sexual orientation? Nathan Myhrvold on risk and the state of the Earth; a Gallup poll suggests slowing migration, and why your paycheck just might kill you.

Breakthrough Batteries?

The more time you spend talking with smart people about the energy future, the more you hear about the holy grail: great batteries. To that end, a couple of recent developments in BatteryLand are encouraging news. The first battery of interest comes from MIT:

A radically new approach to the design of batteries, developed by researchers at MIT, could provide a lightweight and inexpensive alternative to existing batteries for electric vehicles and the power grid. The technology could even make “refueling” such batteries as quick and easy as pumping gas into a conventional car. The new battery relies on an innovative architecture called a semi-solid flow cell, in which solid particles are suspended in a carrier liquid and pumped through the system. In this design, the battery’s active components — the positive and negative electrodes, or cathodes and anodes — are composed of particles suspended in a liquid electrolyte. These two different suspensions are pumped through systems separated by a filter, such as a thin porous membrane.

How to Make the Perfect Cup of Coffee

On his trip to Seattle, Stephen Dubner encounters the best coffee he's ever tasted. The recipe comes straight from two former World Barista Champions.

Would a New Class of Nuclear Reactors Have Withstood the Tsunami?

As dangerous levels of radiation thwart emergency work at Japan's damaged Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, Japanese military fire trucks have reportedly resorted to spraying spent fuel rods with water in an effort to cool them.

Food and the New Physics

Molecular gastronomists are altering and reimagining our food: from flavored foams to dry ice for dessert. But you have to wonder, have the practical applications of science in the kitchen taken a back seat to all this whimsy?