I retired in April 2013 after 25 years as a librarian at the British Library specialising in inventions. This included running numerous workshops; writing books on inventions and a work blog; carrying out searches for clients; and one-to-one meetings with inventors. [more]


11 December 2013

Inventions to defuse hurricanes

Geoengineering covers many technical subjects, and one is how to control hurricanes so that they are less destructive.

Patents have risen to the challenge, and not only are there patent specifications on the subject, there is also a classification, "Devices or methods for influencing weather conditions", A01G15/00. The 45 which mention hurricanes or cyclones in their title are listed here.

For a good search, you should rarely rely on one search, and certainly not on one which relies merely on a couple of title words in one class. You would have missed Water alteration structure having below surface valves or wave reflectors, published in 2009, which includes among its numerous inventors a certain William H. Gates III, better known as Bill Gates. Its other inventors include Nathan Myhrvold, the former chief technical officer of Microsoft, who with Edward Jung, formerly Microsoft's chief for software, formed Intellectual Ventures, a prolific creator of patented ideas. Here is the invention's chief drawing.

The idea is that a giant polyethylene tube in the sea allows warm sea water to splash over the top and to sink down, so that it mixes with the colder water below. Build enough and you defuse hurricanes.

I came across this due to Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner's delightful book Superfreakonomics, the sequel to Freakonomics, which uses economics (and often statistics) to shed light on a wide variety of activities in a tongue-in-cheek yet thoughtful way. Chapter 5 discusses the efforts to defuse hurricanes, and the notes cite the above US patent application. Hurricanes are incredibly destructive and also kill many people so any cost analysis would suggest that making them less powerful would be worth spending a great deal on. The maximum price for one would be $100,000, and positioning 10,000 would therefore cost $1 billion -- 10% of the cost of hurricane damage in one year. They would also have to be towed and anchored to the right spots, and there is the problem of navigation hazards for ships.

Another of the inventors is Stephen Salter, who as a professor at Edinburgh came up with the "Salter Duck", a way of generating power from waves by using a chain of nodding "ducks". This was applied for as long ago as 1973 and is titled Wave energy extraction. The main drawing is shown below.

I had no idea that there were so many patent specifications for quelling the force of hurricanes. No doubt different methods are proposed, or perhaps they vary only in detail. What about Method for hurricane prevention, illustrated here:

And also this very intricate drawing, from Ocean wind water pump for de-energizing a storm.

While many of these methods may not work, and some look distinctly odd, but the patent system does provide a way to identify numerous solutions which are presented in a systematic way. One distinct oddity located in the same class is a Canadian patent application, Ultimate solutions to obesity, tornado, doomsday, and other acts of God.

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