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Can Bill Gates Prevent the Next Katrina? 380

theodp writes "He once controlled the world's PCs. Now Bill Gates has set his sights on controlling the world's weather. And patenting it. On Thursday, the USPTO revealed that Gates and ex-Microsoft CTO Nathan Myhrvold have filed five patent applications that propose using large fleets of vessels to suppress hurricanes through various methods of mixing warm water from the surface of the ocean with colder water at greater depths. The idea is to decrease the surface temperature, reducing or eliminating the heat-driven condensation that fuels the giant storms. Hey, a guy can only play so much golf in retirement."
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Can Bill Gates Prevent the Next Katrina?

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  • Next up! (Score:5, Funny)

    by AltGrendel ( 175092 ) <> on Friday July 10, 2009 @08:03AM (#28647927) Homepage
    He'll have an island in the middle of the ocean with a volcano that has a giant face on it that looks like him.
    • Re:Next up! (Score:5, Funny)

      by 2.7182 ( 819680 ) on Friday July 10, 2009 @08:04AM (#28647939)
      Actually, I think just about anyone would prefer it to be a skull on a volcano, rather than a face.
    • Re:Next up! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Hurricane78 ( 562437 ) <deleted.slashdot@org> on Friday July 10, 2009 @09:23AM (#28648627)

      And he will laugh maniacally, when the change in nature's cycles creates huge storms that wipe out entire Europe and half of Africa.

      Seriously, why do people still not understand, that everything in nature is a system of sensitive balanced cycles, and when you change things, you have to make a new working cycle or at least balance it all out again, to not create a catastrophe in the long term?
      Maybe because they still can. And because when it happens, they are long dead, or it does not affect them.

      Well I bet his method will be just as elegant and as well-integrating as Windows. :P

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Panzor ( 1372841 )

        The irony of your username is hilarious.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Alinabi ( 464689 )
        Finally. It was about time someone made tropical weather as stable as Vista.
      • And he will laugh maniacally, when the change in nature's cycles creates huge storms that wipe out entire Europe and half of Africa.

        If you've been paying attention to history, weather and climate have huge geopolitical and strategic consequences. North Atlantic storms stopped both the Spanish Armada and Nazi Germany from invading England. Weather almost stopped the D-Day invasions. Japan is still a nation because of such a storm: the Kamikaze.

        Climactic shifts sparked the movements of barbarian tribes and may have contributed to the fall of the Roman Empire, prevented the early Nordic colonization of North America, and paved the way f

  • by Rockoon ( 1252108 ) on Friday July 10, 2009 @08:04AM (#28647933)
    Lets say they implement this sort of thing..

    How will they ever know that they reduced the number of storms?

    The number of storms on a yearly basis is anything but consistent.
    • by noundi ( 1044080 )
      Haven't you ever heard the phrase "No news is good news"?
    • by FroBugg ( 24957 ) on Friday July 10, 2009 @08:13AM (#28648009) Homepage

      They don't. That was one of the (many) problems with Project Stormfury, the government attempt to disrupt hurricanes with cloud seeding back in the 1960's. You don't get enough data to run any kind of reliable control. So not only do you not know for sure whether you're making a difference or not, you don't even know whether you're making things worse or not.

      Unless they can somehow manage to drive their fleet into every forming hurricane and make every single one suddenly fall apart, any success they claim is going to be very open to interpretation.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by MindKata ( 957167 )
        "very open to interpretation"

        But then the question becomes interpretation or exploitation? ... (exploitation as in the opportunity to exploit events for marketing and PR reasons, to imply they are doing things to help when they are just exploiting events for future profits).

        Scientists are not the only people interpreting the results and often not the most vocal people most people get to hear. For example sales people in corporations have agendas they wish to push behind any PR opportunity that comes al
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) *

      Lets say they implement this sort of thing.. How will they ever know that they reduced the number of storms? The number of storms on a yearly basis is anything but consistent.

      This is true--you wouldn't know instantly that you stopped a storm for sure. But as the length of time goes up without a hurricane, your confidence level rises until you surpass some threshold which is the longest distance of time between hurricanes. I'm sure meteorologists would like to speculate that the conditions are right but a new factor is stopping these storms. You'll just never really know.

      Now, there's a lot of things you don't know whether or not you're changing. Such as the natural cycle

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Demena ( 966987 )
        If the Atlantic Conveyor fails, instant ice age in europe. Compare the latitude of the major european cities with the same latitudes in the US.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by TapeCutter ( 624760 ) *
          "What effect (if any) will pumping this warm water down and cool water up have..."

          One possibility: If the mixing warms the water at the bottom it may be enough to release methane from methane hydrates deposited in the ocean bed. On the down side this will make global warming worse, on the upside the mass of bubbles will sink Bill's fleet of ships.
      • by DrgnDancer ( 137700 ) on Friday July 10, 2009 @09:32AM (#28648703) Homepage

        This is what I was thinking as soon as I read the article. Even if it works (and the theory seems valid if they could do it on a massive enough scale, but it would have to be MASSSIVE) what else are you screwing up by doing this? What place do hurricanes occupy in the ecosystem of the east coast of the US? How is all of this cold water going to affect marine life? I mean, you'd need HUGE amount of colder water to affect storm development. We're talking about one of nature's most powerful forces here, you're not going to break it up by dumping a couple of buckets of ice. You're making a huge expanse of the upper ocean several degrees cooler, and simultaneously making a huge expanse of the lower ocean several degrees warmer, what's that going to do?

        And before some anti-environmentalist starts saying "Well, yeah, but who cares if we screw up the ecosystem a bit if we're saving lives and property?", do you think the people on the Gulf Coast will thank you if you eliminate hurricanes but cause an overgrowth of algae that ruins the fishing and shrimping industries? Those industries are critical to southern Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and a good chunk of Florida. Or if the weather pattern change causes a heat up in the region and traditional crops to fail? Or for that matter a cool down with the same affect? We have no idea what this kind of thing could do, even assuming we got it to work.

        This would need tons of modeling and study before it could be safely deployed, and even then, as parent said, if should be used sparingly.

      • by nizo ( 81281 ) *

        As someone who lives in the quite arid southwest, I would be pretty pissed if we stopped getting less rain here, and we do indeed get showers that are a direct consequence of hurricanes. So yeah, messing with the hurricanes is going to cause horrible consequences we can't even imagine right now. But at least all those million dollar beach homes won't need to be rebuilt next year.

        • To be fair, it isn't just million dollar beach homes that get pummeled by hurricanes. there are some incredibly poor areas in Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana that get trashed just as bad and don't have the insurance policies to recover nearly as easily as the owners of said million dollar homes. And for most of these people, simply moving is not nearly so simple as it sounds. It's a very significant problem.
    • by Sockatume ( 732728 ) on Friday July 10, 2009 @08:18AM (#28648043)

      For the curious []. I'm not going to sit down and read out the data and figure out the standard deviation, but you're not kidding. You'd have to do this for decades to know how effective it was, and if it turns out to be useless, the environmental cost would have been wasted. I'd hate to be the guy who gets to do the risk-benefit analysis on that one.

    • You can use 10, 15, 20, etc. year averages, you can look at trends.

      You can also look at weather patterns in an area, and determine how likely, historically, those weather patterns lead to storms, and then compare that to how likely they lead to storms "after treatment".

      Determining success/failure won't be trivial, but it won't be anything resembling impossible either.

    • by Ilgaz ( 86384 )

      You will easily figure if the device is working when you see very interesting weather on this page: []

      Remember Simcity Tornado? ;)

    • by Shivetya ( 243324 )

      I figure it will probably be the same pseudo science employed by Gore.

      In other words, claims of consensus, its for the children, we're smarter than you, and such should suffice.

      Any reduction in storms proves their process works, any increase proves it wasn't executed properly and would work with more money and adherence to their process.

    • They'll just count the number of times a disembodied voice says "Weather control device activated!".
  • I only have one thought...
  • The next step of Gates' plan: Regroup all his weather-altering devices into a single prototype named the Weather Dominator. Proudly go on the air while wearing his blue uniform and matching helmet with mirrored facemask and announce his global domination plans. COBRAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!
  • by Chris Mattern ( 191822 ) on Friday July 10, 2009 @08:07AM (#28647969)

    "Face it - Bill Gates is a about a white Persian cat and a monocle away from being a Bond villain."

  • That's a great idea!!

    And there can't possibly be any consequences of doing something like that...
  • Gulf Stream (Score:5, Insightful)

    by olsmeister ( 1488789 ) on Friday July 10, 2009 @08:15AM (#28648029)
    There has already been talk about the possible shutdown of the Gulf Stream plunging Europe into a mini-ice age. It seems like meddling with the mix of warm and cold ocean water in this fashion could make things even worse. And who knows what pumping billions of gallons of cold water from the depths up to the surface would do to the marine wildlife.

    Nobody likes hurricanes. They cause massive destruction and they kill people. But they are part of nature.

    I think a better solution would be to act a little smarter about where we build our population centers, and do not offer insurance to people who choose to build in a location where hurricanes are known to strike on a somewhat regular basis.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      I'll move away from the Gulf Coast as soon as everyone in Kansas and California are stripped of their homeowner's insurance. Oh, and also residents of New York, because only fools would live in a known terrorist target.
      • NOT A TROLL (Score:5, Insightful)

        by an.echte.trilingue ( 1063180 ) on Friday July 10, 2009 @10:24AM (#28649471) Homepage
        I must call attention to this!

        Parent is making a valid point that every location comes with the risk of a natural disaster in response to the absurd assertion that we should never put population centers in a place that can have a storm. People in Kansas have tornadoes, people in California have earth quakes. The solution is not to smugly deny that people live in areas that are victim to the phenomenon du jour, it is to find ways to mitigate those risks.

        The danger that hurricanes pose is easily mitigated, just as tornado or earthquake dangers are easily mitigated. Most of those who lost their homes in New Orleans wouldn't have if the government had been doing its job and maintaining the dikes. People in Kansas are safe when the government puts tornado-warning infrastructure in place. People in California are safe when the highways and bridges are built to withstand shock. This is what we have government for.

        If we only put population centers in places with no risk of natural disaster, the habitable surface of the earth would be small indeed.
    • Re:Gulf Stream (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Bill_the_Engineer ( 772575 ) on Friday July 10, 2009 @09:14AM (#28648539)

      Nobody likes hurricanes. They cause massive destruction and they kill people. But they are part of nature.

      I agree. I also worry about the amount of rainfall that would be lost if Bill Gates plan actually works. Believe it or not there are some useful aspects to a hurricane and more importantly tropical storms.

      I think a better solution would be to act a little smarter about where we build our population centers,

      Here I sort of agree. We should be smarter about where we build our population centers, but more importantly HOW we build our population centers near the gulf.

      and do not offer insurance to people who choose to build in a location where hurricanes are known to strike on a somewhat regular basis.

      I totally disagree. Most of the hurricane's damage is from storm surge not wind. So we should limit the amount of construction on shores and surrounding low elevation areas. However your insurance idea, which by the way is already being implemented, penalizes people who live in the same area (county) but built smartly and rarely have catastrophic damage done on their property.

      I did not file any insurance claims for hurricane Katrina. Most of the damage from Katrina was FLOOD damage which isn't covered by regular home insurance anyway. But I pay 4 times the state average for insurance, and have a storm deductible based on a percentage of my home's market value. So not only do I pay more, I am less likely to be able to even file a claim. Basically the existence of hurricanes has given insurance companies political cover to rip me off.

      There are folks in northern Alabama who have hail damage on their roofs almost every year from the spring storm season, and yet I hear no calls to raise their insurance nor limit the coverage from wind or hail damage. They have a history of tornadoes touching down and wiping out neighborhoods and commercial property, yet their insurance remains unaffected. There are areas in this country where people are susceptible to lose their homes from fires, mudslides, or tornadoes on a yearly basis and yet I hear no calls to relocate them.

      Pardon me but you can take that "offer no insurance" idea and shove it up your arse...

      • Re:Gulf Stream (Score:5, Informative)

        by je ne sais quoi ( 987177 ) on Friday July 10, 2009 @10:19AM (#28649391)

        I also worry about the amount of rainfall that would be lost if Bill Gates plan actually works. Believe it or not there are some useful aspects to a hurricane and more importantly tropical storms.

        Here [] is the chart of the water levels of Lake Lanier, which is Atlanta's only major water supply. The record low elevations line that you see was set last year, which was the second year of a drought (you might recall our governor's response to the drought, which was to pray for rain [], aside from suing all of the neighboring states to try to take their water). The big bump that you see in the minimum recorded lake elevations just before September was hurricane Gustav, which essentially saved us from a situation where the lake would have been within 10 feet of a standing pool, and Atlanta gets its water on the outlet of the power generators. In fact, most of Atlanta's problems were because the El Niño shut down the hurricanes into the gulf for a couple of years after katrina. Now that they're back, and the wet weather in general, our water supply is fine for the moment.

    • I think a better solution would be to act a little smarter about where we build our population centers, and do not offer insurance to people who choose to build in a location where hurricanes are known to strike on a somewhat regular basis

      The problem is that some of the best places to put population centers are also where hurricanes tend to be. Population centers are often near ports. I would bet that, just about every one of the world's great cities began on a river or a sea port, and its certainly true

  • by ghostis ( 165022 ) on Friday July 10, 2009 @08:15AM (#28648031) Homepage

    Great - more vaporware from Bill Gates... ;-)

  • Where is the whatcouldpossiblygowrong tag when you need it?

    I don't think there has ever been a more appropriate reason to use it....
  • by krou ( 1027572 ) on Friday July 10, 2009 @08:25AM (#28648099)
    Weather man: The sky is lovely and blue today ...
    Us: ZOMG! Blue skyz of deathz!
  • by Kupfernigk ( 1190345 ) on Friday July 10, 2009 @08:28AM (#28648107)
    I hope that no patent will be granted until they produce a working prototype. On another planet, identical to this one.

    The catch is that as Bill would have to visit Magrathea to get the planet built, it would be cheaper just to engage them to fix the global warming on this one. (and add a few more fjords while at it.)

    • The catch is that as Bill would have to visit Magrathea to get the planet built, it would be cheaper just to engage them to fix the global warming on this one

      My stupid Javascript global warming calculator estimates that Americans will spend probably somewhere around 8 trillion dollars to reduce emissions down to 20% of what they are today, and that's going to be with a pretty sharp standard of living decrees. I'm working on a more detailed economic modelling engine in C++ that I'll FOSS which I think will

  • /. guys, this is the exact time to use Borg icon and it is missing.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 10, 2009 @08:31AM (#28648139)

    Ok, as much as hurricanes hurt and destroy peoples homes, lives, and regions economies, I can tell you right now that to suppress them is A BAD IDEA.

    Hurricane season and storm activity represent a huge portion of the rainfall/water collection/water renewal in the Caribbean, and is still a significant water contributor in the southern U.S.A., a region that is still experiencing drought conditions, even if its not as severe as last year. What, is this a plot to dry up an important freshwater source for a large region, then sell expensive desalination plants?! Desertification of a whole region to put up solar plants or harvest silicon?

    Plus the hurricanes help to suck up all the warm water that's killing the the coral reefs - you know, one of the bastions against the waves pounding coastlines?

    Oh wait, the Caribbean is full of small islands and a few unnecessary Central American countries that act as the hurricane buffer for the U.S.A., and absorb the majority of the insurance hikes when Florida/Louisiana/Texas gets hit. Shafting us and destroying our ecology is business as usual.

  • by jra ( 5600 ) on Friday July 10, 2009 @08:33AM (#28648157)

    Cause the most prominent argument regularly put forth as to why weather control is bad is:

    Do *you* want to be the one who causes lots of insurance companies to have to pay out because someone can make a reasonable case that where the hurricane landed was no longer an Act Of God?

    Gates is used to playing God.

    • by Aladrin ( 926209 )

      Cripes, all we need is for insurance companies to add 'lack of action by God' to their list of things they don't cover.

  • Easy (Score:3, Funny)

    by mlush ( 620447 ) on Friday July 10, 2009 @08:35AM (#28648169)
    He just declares flooding as the new international standard
  • 1000 level (Score:3, Interesting)

    by slashdime ( 818069 ) on Friday July 10, 2009 @08:38AM (#28648201)
    I took a 1000 level Earth and Atmospheric Sciences class a few years ago and one of the first things we touched upon was this idea. And why it wouldn't work. Before we even ask the question of why Bill Gates is doing this, let's ask the question of why he's patenting it?
    1. The cold water is at depth for a reason - it's heavier. It'll take a lot of energy (more heat, more greenhouse gases, etc) to pump cold water to the surface
    2. The cold water isn't going to float on the surface for the same reason - it's heavier.
    • Error in logic (Score:3, Insightful)

      by denzacar ( 181829 )

      1. Why would you pump cold water up? It is a heat sink. You pump the heat down.
      2. Well THAT is the point. Do you put ice in your drink so it would just drop to the bottom or perhaps to cool the drink by absorbing the heat?

      Anyway... Give Gates a LITTLE credit. The guy is NOT a moron after all.
      RTFA - his idea is quite simple and rather carbon neutral (once you build a huge fleet of ships).
      Basically, the idea is to use pressure and temperature differences to "pump" the warm surface water to the bottom.


      • by DZign ( 200479 )

        > (once you build a huge fleet of ships).

        Sounds like time to invest in stocks of ship yards if he actually continues with this plan..

  • ... he owes us one.

  • by mc1138 ( 718275 ) on Friday July 10, 2009 @08:41AM (#28648221) Homepage
    I guess Bill is taking what he learned from Windows and applying it to the weather...
  • Uhhh oooh (Score:5, Funny)

    by azav ( 469988 ) on Friday July 10, 2009 @08:45AM (#28648255) Homepage Journal

    GPF in Rainfall.exe. Abort, retry or ignore?

  • . . . he is destined to encounter, and do battle with piracy.

    This time the real thing.

  • by joedoc ( 441972 ) on Friday July 10, 2009 @08:54AM (#28648339) Homepage

    ...for a number of years (though I'm an IT guy, not a meteorologist), I learned enough to know that not only is this doomed to failure, they should already know that it's not scientifically possible.

    How in the name of God are they going to generate the energy needed to cool the water at "greater" ocean depths? The would have to launch a fleet of ships far greater then they can possibly imagine.

    Not only does this appear to be scientifically and logistically improbable, but have they ever considered the issues with screwing with global weather patterns? Stopping hurricanes (or, in reality, stopping their potential capability for damage to humans and land structures) is a noble dream, but every weather even had both positive and negative affects on other weather patterns, events that we actually may want to occur.

    He would be better off taking all the money he'd invest in this silliness and hand it over to people in hurricane-damaged areas so they can rebuild. Or move.

    • Hmm, considering the areas that the hurricanes move over, I agree that it is an event that we actually may want to occur. ^^

      When I see satellite films of a moving hurricane, I always sit there, trying to shove the hurricane on my screen in the right direction.
      Like "*Just* a *liiittle* bit more to the left. Come on! Please!"

    • You work on the helpdesk for the weather channel? Obviously you know more about this than the people who spent large amounts of time and money investigating the project.

      Now if only I can find someone who runs cables at a hospital to tell me if I should continue to fund this cancer research project...

  • Mixing cold water at depths with warm surface water quickly is impossible with pumps and stuff. Just drop a nuclear depth charge and explode it about a mile below the surface! Instantly all that water will mix together and the storm will dissipate. 16000 warheads from Russia and 8000 warheads from U.S.A, we can prevent hurricanes for the next, what 3, years?
  • Obvious? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by PhilHibbs ( 4537 ) <> on Friday July 10, 2009 @08:58AM (#28648371) Homepage Journal

    I've been thinking about this for some time. A network of floating pumps across the belt where hurricanes form, solar powered, to pump cool water from a few tens of meters down up to the surface. When a depression is spotted, just turn on the pumps in its path to reduce the amount of surface heat to feed it. My oceanographer friend tells me I'm talking nonsense.

  • by WCMI92 ( 592436 ) on Friday July 10, 2009 @09:05AM (#28648435) Homepage

    Anyone who thinks they can change the weather is either absorbed in hubris or insane.

    A Hurricane can't be stopped or prevented. Or influenced in any way by anything human beings could do to it. You could detonate the largest nuclear bomb ever made in the middle of a hurricane and it wouldn't even dent it. A hurricane has so much energy that it releases more energy than all explosives ever detonated by humans every MINUTE...

  • Without them, and the rainfall they bring, the central USA would be a desert.

    Why doesn't he just buy New Orleans?

  • ...George Bush caused Katrina, and he's out of office now.
  • Where I live, the annual rainfall is entirely dependent upon having a couple of hurricane remnants pass by us. If the hurricane season doesn't turn up anything, we've got a drought.

  • ... this will seem like magic.
    Give "me" billions and I will chemtrail the world back to good climate health :)
    See the temperature is dropping :)
    MS saved us all.....
    If MS can get the mix right, can they solve overpopulation too?... permanently? []
  • call me a troll, call me what you will, but this is NOT some arc angel send from high upon tech mountain to solve all our meatworld woes. the guy spent arguably his entire career at microsoft trying to find ways to fuck other businesses out of a competing edge with his products through "embrace extend extinguish" and chillaxed on the coat-tails of a shitty but defacto standard operating system that was a pile of security flaws, mystery code, and undocumented standards.

    This man couldnt prevent windows, a m
  • by Skull_Leader ( 705927 ) on Friday July 10, 2009 @10:11AM (#28649257)
    As soon as someone thinks that can control or SHOULD control the weather we are doomed. Despite the losses seen in violent storms and other weather events, those events keep our world in balance and in check. There are more factors involved than we can comprehend or yet understand. Changes in humidity, movement of seeds/soils... so many things. The problem is, not to sound too greenie, is that we treat the earth like we own it, not like we are part of it. The more we influence it (actively or passively) the more likely it is to get messed up and for things to get worse for us. We need the Earth... it doesn't need us. I think Gates, the meglomaniac/idiot savant, should stick to giving his billions to those less fortunate and leave mother nature alone.

Promising costs nothing, it's the delivering that kills you.