BILL GATES STEPPED off his perch at Microsoft last year, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t like to be in charge. His next gig: boss of the weather. The software mogul has applied for five patents (made public in July) for hurricane-fighting tech intended to turn Katrina-like catastrophes into gentle ocean breezes. See, hurricanes gain momentum by traveling over the warm surface of the ocean, picking up speed along the way. Gates and his coinventors want to chill things out with cold water pumped from the ocean depths up to the surface, snuffing hurricanes before they hit the coast.
Not so fast, chides UW atmospheric sciences professor Nathan Mantua. “The weather and climate system is highly variable, and operates on a scale that is so much bigger than we can modify with our little experiments.”
Art Rangno, former UW meteorologist and participant in cloud-seeding experiments during the 1970s, agrees, calling the whole thing “ludicrous.” The enormity of the pertinent bodies of water makes the plan unfeasible, he says. “Yes, if we cooled the entire Gulf of Mexico by 15 degrees Celsius, we would never have another hurricane. But it can’t be done.”
Then Rangno tore into a stormy harangue about unforeseen consequences that could’ve come from the pages of Jurassic Park: “Imagine this is really done: We have a big patch of cooler water gyrating around in the Gulf of Mexico,” which will impair cloud production and cause drought in the southeastern United States.
But it is fun to think about, Mantua admits. “It sounds like James Bond. It could be a great movie.”