Research company hopes bubbles can be the answer to weakening hurricanes

One night of bad weather almost ended two decades of growing pecans for Eric Cohen. In October 2018, Hurricane Michael destroyed 20,000 trees in his Decatur County orchid.

It will take another decade for his orchid to recover.

“It doesn’t take anybody to figure out we’re getting a lot more hurricanes, and they seem to be a lot stronger every year,” Cohen said.

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Twenty minutes up the road in Seminole County, Greg Mims’ farm buildings are still damaged from Michael. He said he remembers how the wind sounded that night.

“That was an experience that I do not ever want to go through again,” Mims said.

2020′s record-breaking hurricane season was a source of anxiety for Georgia farmers. There were 30 tropical storms and 13 hurricanes.

Flooding from rain or damaging winds can destroy crops before they are harvested. Storms that enter the Gulf of Mexico are fueled by warming water surface temperatures. As ocean temperatures continue to rise, the US will continue to see more powerful tropical storms.

Norwegian researcher Olav Hollingsæter said his company Oceantherm may be able to help. It’s working on a concept to weaken tropical storms before they make it to the US.

“The inspiration was Hurricane Katrina,” Hollingsæter said. “There it was a lot of talking about how the warm surface water in the Gulf was the source of Katrina getting so strong.”

It’s based on a technology used for 50 years in Norway to keep water inlets from freezing. They call it a “bubble curtain.”

Bubbles from a pipe pulled underwater by a boat push cooler water below the surface to the top, lowering the surface temperature. Dropping the temperature even a couple of degrees can weaken a storm.

“We can use a fleet of ships 20 ships, 30 ships, whatever we need. Then, we go into formation to reduce the sea surface temperature in the path,” Hollingsæter said.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated in 2019 storm damage costs more than $50 billion a year. Oceantherm estimated it would cost $500 million to get its bubble curtain program set up in the Gulf, and about $100 million to operate annually.

The idea may sound like science fiction, but Hollingsæter is raising funds to test the technology on a larger scale.

Georgia farmers said US regulators should try anything to slow these storms down.

“You know it’s a gamble,” Mims said. “You never know what what’s what the years going bring what the weather is going bring to it.”

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