A thought came to me as I was staring at the sky the other day. I was watching the plumes of cumulus rise over the mountains and was thinking about the water molecules as they started off warm at the base of the mountain and through orographic lifting, how the speed and collision of the molecules changed with temperature and pressure.
Figure 1. Cumulus towering over the Appalachian mountains.
As I was thinking about this I started thinking about that one movie GeoStorm. I remember the trailer for the movie and in the beginning, it shows a hurricane. Via satellite, something is dropped into the storm and the system disorganizes and dies. But would that be a good idea? like, would it be smart (technology provided) to kill hurricanes as they make their way across the ocean? I guess the best place to start is to know what the purpose of a Hurricane or other Tropical storm is.
Whats a Hurricane?
Before we branch off into the world of possibilities that might occur on Earth if we start disrupting nature, we should know what a hurricane is and why we have complex systems like these disturbances to begin with. I don’t plan on getting into the actual science of hurricane genesis or the ingredients needed to make a hurricane, however, there is one idea that I want you to keep in your mind. Our planet does some absolutely fantastic things, one of which is its ability to regulate temperature between the Northern and Southern hemispheres.
Figure 2. Diagram showing where most heat energy is absorbed in different latitudes.
The planet is not heated equally because we live on a round planet (really an elongated spheroid). As our Sun’s radiation travels through space, it comes in contact with our planet. Look at the picture again and think about this for a second or two. At higher latitudes, the Sun’s rays travel through the atmosphere but the radiation is transferred over a longer area in either hemisphere. Try this, take a flashlight and hold it so that it is shining straight down. Now tilt the flashlight. The amount of light coming from the flashlight (Sun) has not changed, however, the spread of the light and thus available energy did. This means that over a longer area, less energy is available because it has to be used over a larger one. So now there is a flux of energy at the equator, and this extra energy has to be distributed and carried to the cooler parts of the world* via a Hurricane
* Keep in mind that the ocean takes longer to heat up, but it is also very slow to lose heat energy. The oceans hold a lot of energy and are the primary driving force when it comes to atmospheric circulations and thus surface weather conditions. Check out my blog about Oceans and Climate Change
Tipping the scales.
As human technologies get more advanced, we as a species are able to survive diseases and illnesses that once would have killed us but now are easily cured by modern medicine. As populations grow the probability of death and economic loss will become more threatening, especially when something like a hurricane can cause some hefty damage. Just look at Last years season. Let’s say in our hypothetical situation that humans have engineered new technologies and were able to kill Tropical storms before they caused destruction to human civilizations, and save governments billions of dollars every year. Sounds well and good but what would the consequences of these actions be? Over a long period of time, I would hypothesize that things may actually seem to go back to normal ( before high emissions of co2) in that we may see more Arctic Sea ice return in the Northern Hemisphere, but will it stay there?
Figure 3. Map of ice sheets and glaciers during an Ice Age.
If the Northern Hemisphere would continue to get colder and colder, over time the sea ice and glaciers may penetrate into lower latitudes. As glaciers form and work their way down into North America, like it did in the last Ice Ages, there would be an increased flux of outgoing radiation. This is because Ice and snow have a high albedo (reflectivity), this is why you may need sunglasses after a freshly fallen snow. The Sun’s energy is not being absorbed by the snow thus making heat energy but rather it is being reflected back into space. We call this a positive feedback. The Sun’s energy is being reflected because of the snow and allows more snow and ice to form covering a larger area thus reflecting more energy and dropping the temperatures further.
A hurricane is a storm but also a very strong Low-pressure system. Disrupting pressure systems and upper-level air movement of the troposphere could and most likely change patterns that cause our low and high-pressure systems as well as locations of such systems. These High and low-pressure systems are what directly influence surface weather conditions and location of precipitation patterns. With a cooling down North America, we may pressure and temperature gradients weaken. With a weakening polar jet more cold Arctic air is allowed to travel further south and mid-latitude cyclones like the Alberta clipper may become more frequent.
Is it possible?
I really don’t like to say that something is “impossible” but the probability of any success is very very unlikely. As mentioned before these storms do not happen by accident, nor are they made to kill us. It all comes down to the reality of physics and other natural phenomena. The fact is that the planet heats up more in the middle and the build-up of heat must go somewhere. They move because of temperature gradient differences in the ocean as well as the atmosphere, rotate because of the spinning of the earth beneath them, gain immense amounts of energy from the almost endless available energy (the ocean via evaporation), gain speed from the almost frictionless ocean beneath, and grow to amazing heights when midlevel winds are weak allowing mass divergence in the upper part of the atmosphere.
Figure 3. Anatomy of a Hurricane.
The thing that would have to happen ( I would think) is the need to make the lower levels ( surface – 850 MB) cold almost instantly. Step one to making a hurricane: initiate lift. I would suggest that the first thing I would want to do is make the lower level air less buoyant than the air aloft. Since the air would be cooler it would prevent the storm from gaining energy from the ocean from evaporation. Evaporating and condensing water molecules is how the energy from the sun is able to be transferred to the storm from the ocean. Now, how you would actually do that? I don’t know. I’m just theorizing here.
Its hard to say what chain of events would inevitably unfold if humans took matters into their own hands and start altering natural weather phenomenon, but I do feel that there would be long-term negative effects. It may be plausible that we could go into another cold period or even a full-blown Ice Age. I am not saying that these things will happen but everything in the physical world is connected and show a correlation between one physical property to the next. This means that alterations in the atmosphere directly influence the ocean and then back to the atmosphere.
This is just a single idea of what could happen. Many more situations could come forth and pose huge risks for humanity. Populations of animals may decrease, Migrating patterns of fish could be altered and pose economic as well as sovereign security issues, changes in atmospheric circulations and rain patterns may also be caused in response to these changes, ocean chemistry could be altered, and climate refugees would skyrocket as people would need to move to an area that can support them.