As 2017 showed, hurricanes can do immense damage. The effects of climate change will also make hurricanes worse, as warmer air means more water vapor, and more water vapor translates to more superstorms. It’s uncertain how much using air bubble technology would actually help, but there might be beneficial truth to using it.
Tropical hurricanes are generated when masses of cold and warm air collide. Another essential factor is that the sea surface temperature must be greater than 26.5°C.
“Climate change is causing sea surface temperatures to increase,” says Grim Eidnes, who is a Senior Research Scientist at SINTEF Ocean. “The critical temperature threshold at which evaporation is sufficient to promote the development of hurricanes is 26.5°C. In the case of hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria that occurred in the Gulf of Mexico in the period August to September 2017, sea surface temperatures were measured at 32°C”, he says.
So to the big question. Is it possible to cool the sea surface to below 26.5°C by exploiting colder water from deeper in the water column?
Researchers at SINTEF now intend to save lives by using a tried and tested method called a “bubble curtain”.
The method consists of supplying bubbles of compressed air from a perforated pipe lowered in the water, which then rise, taking with them colder water from deeper in the ocean. At the surface, the cold water mixes with, and cools, the warm surface water.
SINTEF believes that the Yucatan Strait will be an ideal test arena for this technology.
“Our initial investigations show that the pipes must be located at between 100 and 150 metres depth in order to extract water that is cold enough” says Eidnes. “By bringing this water to the surface using the bubble curtains, the surface temperature will fall to below 26.5°C, thus cutting off the hurricane’s energy supply”, he says, before adding that “This method will allow us quite simply to prevent hurricanes from achieving life-threatening intensities”.