In the last week of September, the metropolis of Tokyo, Japan, along with the country’s chain of small offshore islands, was narrowly missed by Mindulle, the third super typhoon to form in the Western Pacific this year.
The storm, which originated close to the island of Guam, had powerful wind gusts up to 195 km per hour (120 mph), strong rainfall, and waves higher than 10 meters (33 feet). If Japan had been hard hit, residents would have suffered extensive flooding, along with damage caused by high winds, waves, and landslides.
Luckily, the storm veered just to the east, allowing Tokyo and the surrounding islands to avoid being hit by Mindulle’s full force. The residents of the outlying Izu Islands had to deal with 41 cm (16 in) of rain in just two days but otherwise remained unharmed. However, experts say that, as a result of climate change, it will only be a matter of time before a super typhoon unleashes its full power on mainland Japan.
However, researchers, analysts, and experts from the government, academia, and the private sector are working together at the Typhoon Science and Technology Research Center, which was officially opened on the first of October at Yokohama National University in southwest Tokyo, on what they call the “Typoonshot” project. The head of the new center, Hironori Fudeyasu, told German newspaper DW, that the project has two main components: to come up with methods to reduce the damage typhoons cause and to devise ways to collect the incredible amounts of clean energy generated by typhoons, which will help Japan reach zero carbon emissions.
“Japan suffers damage as a result of typhoons every year, and the most recent research indicates that disaster caused by super typhoons will be more severe in the future as a result of global warming,” says meteorology professor at Nagoya University and vice director of the Typhoon Science and Technology Research Center Kazuhisa Tsuboki.
“Japan is situated very close to the region of the Western Pacific, where these typhoons originate because these are the warmest ocean surface temperatures in the world, and they will get bigger in the future,” he adds.
“Japan has very limited energy resources, and there is growing concern about global warming, so obtaining energy from a typhoon would also help Japan to reach its target of zero carbon emissions by 2050. It is something that we have to explore,” Tsuboki states.
One of the methods that the experts behind the Typoonshot project are considering is the injection of a large amount of ice or other cooling elements into the eye of the storm, which will reduce its overall pressure and intensity. Soon, the center hopes to deploy research aircraft to collect data on typhoons and start conducting “real world” experiments on the storms.
Another idea that may have potential is the deployment of a fleet of remote-controlled ships into a storm that will gather and store energy from wind and undersea turbines. In fact, the experts have come up with one estimate that suggests that the energy produced by a powerful typhoon could meet the global demand for energy for an entire month.
Though harnessing the energy of a super typhoon is undoubtedly challenging, the experts behind the Typhoon project are determined. “What we are aiming to create is simple: By 2050, we want typhoons to no longer be a threat, but a blessing,” says Fudeyasu.