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Can scientists weaken hurricanes?

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Scientists say they may be able to lessen the impact of hurricanes by using a controversial method called cloud seeding.

Republicans may never need to postpone a national convention again.

Using a method called cloud seeding, scientists at the University of Leeds say they have discovered a way to weaken hurricanes, subsequently alleviating some of the destructive effects these storms have on the Earth. By controlling the clouds from which the storms are formed, researchers say they might even be able to reduce a hurricane’s intensity by an entire category.

The idea is that hurricanes form over warm tropical waters, acquiring energy from the surface of the sea. By cooling that surface down, hurricanes wouldn’t be able to garner as much strength.

“Hurricanes derive their energy from the heat contained in the surface waters of the ocean,” explained Dr. Alan Gadian, one of the study’s authors. “If we are able to increase the amount of sunlight reflected by clouds above the hurricane development region then there will be less energy to feed the hurricanes.”

To drop these temperatures, Gadian’s group proposes sending a fleet of unmanned vehicles to spray droplets of seawater over areas of the ocean prone to hurricanes. Scientists say some of these droplets would rise into the atmosphere, making clouds thicker and more reflective.

Denser clouds would reflect sunlight back into space, reducing sea surface temperatures by what scientists estimate could be at least a few degrees.

One thing to consider, however, is the effects cloud seeding might have on the environment. Because the technique interferes with the atmosphere’s natural cycles, it could result in reductions of rainfall in nearby regions.

“We are clear that cloud seeding should not be deployed until we are sure there will be no adverse consequences regarding rainfall,” Gadian said. “However if our calculations are correct, judicious seeding of maritime clouds could be invaluable for significantly reducing the destructive power of future hurricanes.”

[via Popular Science]

Image: NASA

Sarah Korones

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Sarah Korones is a freelance writer based in New York. She has written for Psychology Today and Boston's Weekly Dig. She holds a degree from Tufts University. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure