Devastating tropical storms like Superstorm Sandy, which battered the US last week, could be weakened and rendered less lethal by using a simple and cheap technology based on a surprising component - old car tyres, it has been claimed.
Stephen Salter, one of Britain's leading marine engineers from Edinburgh University, has patented with Microsoft billionaires Bill Gates and Nathan Myhrvold the idea of using thousands of tyres lashed together to support giant plastic tubes which extend 100m deep into the ocean.
AdvertisementWave action on the ocean surface would force warm surface water down into the deeper ocean.
According to him, if non-return valves were used the result would be to mix the waters and cool the surface temperature of the ocean to under 26.5C - the critical temperature at which hurricanes form.
Salter, who has written to the government's chief scientific officer setting out his scheme, said that harnessing energy from the waves to cool the surface temperature of the ocean makes ecological sense.
The naturally working pumps would be located in "hurricane alley" - the warm corridor in the Atlantic through which the most damaging storms typically develop and pass.
Salter claims that the hydrological problems have been solved but that research funding is urgently needed.
"If you can cool the sea surface, you would calm the hurricanes. I estimate you would need about 150-450 of these structures. They would drift around and send out radar signals so that no one would collide with them," the Observer quoted him as saying.
The idea of what is now known as the "Salter Sink" was first presented to the US government in 2007 at a post-Katrina US Homeland Security meeting on hurricane suppression.
It was picked up and developed by Intellectual Ventures, a Seattle-based new tech company run by Myhrvold and backed by Gates which buys and licenses patents and inventions.
"The Salter Sink concept is delightfully simple and singularly gargantuan," the company said in a statement posted on its website.
"It has captured our imagination here in the lab. We have done some experiments and computational modelling work to validate this idea, but a lot more research needs to be done by experts in related fields such as climate science and oceanography, and we need partners to pursue the project further," it added.