CAPE CORAL, Fla. — A Norwegian company says it has a way to stop storms from developing in major hurricanes before they reach shorelines — but environmental engineers warn such a system could have unintended consequences.
OceanTherm claims bubble curtain technology may be a way of limiting the effects of tropical storms. OceanTherm CEO Olav Hollingsaeter said that he was inspired by the distressing images of Hurricane Katrina to find a solution.
Hollingsaeter explained that he has been thinking about the issue since 2005, when Katrina struck Louisiana.
Warm water temperatures are what fuel hurricanes such as Katrina. Researchers fear that there will be more frequent and intense storms in the future due to climate change.
The sea surface temperatures of 80 degrees and higher are a good indicator that tropical systems are developing and intensifying. OceanTherm believes that bubble curtain technology can help reduce these temperatures.
They propose that ships deploy perforated pipe systems to release bubbles and push the ocean water cooler up to the surface. This would reduce the temperature of the water and stop warm water storms from intensifying.
The ultimate goal is to eventually have a system large enough to extend across the Atlantic or Gulf of Mexico. Although the project is still in its early stages, Hollingsaeter stated that a recent simulation proved to be successful.
Hollingsaeter explained that in 100 meters we found water cold enough to reduce the surface temperature to below 80 degrees.
Hollingsaeter admitted that funding has been difficult despite recent successes. The next steps in the project include a demonstration on land and then a demonstration at sea. However, both of these costs are estimated to be millions of dollars.
Hollingsaeter stated that the sea-based test has been approved for commercial validation. This is because it requires a lot more engineering and development.
These numbers may seem high-priced, but they are comparable to hurricane damage costs.
All field tests for bubble curtains cost $17.3 million. NOAA says that this is a small amount compared to the $283 billion in storm-related damage in 2017. Due to hurricanes such as Maria, Irma and Harvey, that year was the most expensive hurricane season ever recorded.
Hollingsaeter stated that their research found the bubble curtains wouldn’t have any long term impacts on ocean currents. Dr. Tracy Fanara is an environmental engineer and researcher who was more concerned about the potential impact on the Gulf algal blooms.
Fanara stated that “When you make one change, it can have a domino effect on other things.” Florida red tide is a good example of an upwelling event that can cause those cells to rise from the bottom.
Fanara noted that hurricane season has many other benefits than upwelling. The tropical systems can bring rain to communities and replenish dry aquifers.
Fanara says that these concerns don’t mean the project should be abandoned. He also suggests that the bubble curtain could even be used on a smaller scale.
Fanara stated that it is possible to reduce the intensity of the bubble curtain by lowering the surface temperatures closer to shore. “However, we don’t fully understand the impending impact on the earth’s natural processes.
She stated that scientists can always learn from experimentation and use their findings in other areas.
Hollingsaeter was determined to continue the project and stop future hurricanes. Hollingsaeter also said that the company plans to eventually use the bubble curtains technology to save coral reefs.
This story was originally published by Lauren Petrelli on Scripps station WFTX in Fort Myers, Florida.