Today’s Solutions: October 16, 2021

It seems like an outlandish idea, but a Norwegian startup called OceanTherm believes it can prevent catastrophes by stopping hurricanes as they develop.

Hurricanes are more violent than ever, and a big part of that is rising ocean temperatures: just a one-degree rise in surface temperature can increase wind speed as much as 20 miles an hour.

The idea is that during hurricane season, OceanTherm would have ships deploy large pipes with holes deep underwater, where the water is colder, and then pump in air to push cold water bubbles up to the surface. As a storm passed over the cooler water, the change in temperature could prevent a more intense storm.

Olav Hollingsaeter, CEO of OceanTherm, is a retired submarine officer. He knows very well about the cold temperatures of the deep seas and started thinking about the concept after seeing how Hurricane Katrina gained speed due to “the very hot sea surface temperature before it made landfall.” The recent Hurricane Laura was similar, with the storm traveling over water with a surface temperature of 87 degrees. 

“If you can manage to bring that sea surface temperature below 80 Fahrenheit, then you trip off the energy source for the hurricane,” Hollingsaeter says. “That’s the theory.”

Many experts are skeptical that the technology will have its intended effect, in part because of multiple factors that affect how storms grow, not just water temperature. Plus, changing the ocean temperature at the scale necessary to impact a massive storm could also potentially have unintended consequences, such as causing a drought or another storm elsewhere.

Regardless, the startup believes that the concept needs more study before it can be dismissed and plans to start a two-year pilot with both computer modeling and real-world tests in the Gulf of Mexico. The startup has already demonstrated in Norway that it was possible to cool the surface temperature by approximately four degrees Celsius. 

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