Why we have no power over hurricanes from space

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Sep 20, 2017, 9:58 AM EDT

Superheroes can control the weather, so why can’t NASA be like Storm and use lightning as a weapon, or Kelda, who can change the forecast on a whim?

Meteorological manipulation isn’t happening outside of comic books and sci-fi movies anytime soon. While deflecting weather phenomena may sound like the answer to the destruction left in the wake of events like recent hurricanes Harvey and Irma, scientists haven’t actually figured out how to do it yet. Blasting the stratosphere with sulfur aerosols or sending out a satellite that would act as a kind of remote control for storms (thank the movie Geostorm for that last one) is just not within the realm of possibility.

"We have no real idea how to control weather in the sense of a hurricane," scientist John Moore, head of geoengineering at Beijing Normal University, told Space.com. "All that realistically can be done is changing the thermodynamics of the system, which largely means changing the sea-surface temperatures." 

Meaning, the conspiracy theory that suggests Irma was the raging result of government experiments is no more than hot air. No physical model of hurricane evolution actually exists—only statistically generated models. Though artificially lowering the ocean temperature with some far-reaching form of underwater AC could hypothetically make the number and intensity of hurricanes plunge, without a generalized model it’s impossible to know where to set the temp.


Hurricane Irma as seen from space by NASA.


Earth could (again, hypothetically) be surrounded by mirrors or shades to reflect away light that raises ocean temperatures, such as the orbiting shade James Early suggested in the late ‘80s. He believed a shade positioned at a stable point between Earth and the sun could cool off the planet if someone had $10 trillion to spare. Even if we were able to pull something like this off, turning the dial down on temps would do just that and not directly control hurricanes.

Geoengineering is usually concerned with using technology to thwart climate change as much as possible. Going back to that aerosol idea, it could cool the oceans down just like the sun-blocking clouds from volcanic eruptions, but the effect that massive amounts of sulfur spray would have on the environment when they rain back down is probably something scientists would rather not find out.

Satellites can’t even create a hurricane, let alone control one. Setting the deadly swirl of a hurricane in motion would involve bombarding the water with an immense amount of energy with a mega-laser or microwave generator, and even the power of something like that would be diluted when you consider how much distance it would have to cover. Like, the entire planet.

Rocketing fancy equipment into space probably won’t do much to lower ocean temps. What can prevent them from rising further is reducing CO2 emissions, which doesn’t even require a superhuman effort.

(via Space.com)