Bill Gates' Latest Venture: Stopping Hurricanes

Bill Gates and a team of co-inventors have proposed an idea for killing hurricanes before they can potentially make devastating landfall. The project, for which the inventors have submitted a patent application, involves placing vessels in the path of the storm and having them pull cooler water from beneath the ocean's surface, which theoretically would rob the hurricane of its strength.

Bill Gates continues to think big: a newly released patent application shows the Microsoft founder's latest project involves nothing short of controlling the weather. The application, filed with the U.S. Patent and Trade Office by a limited-liability corporation named Searete on Jan. 3, 2008, groups Gates with 12 other inventors.

The patent application proposes parking one or more boats in the path of a hurricane or tropical depression, and then having those vessels suck colder water from the ocean's depths to the surface. Since hurricanes need warmer water in order to maintain their city-destroying strength, a colder sea surface would potentially dampen the storm's power before it could make landfall.

"Through weather prediction techniques, the path of disturbance may be determined and vessels may be moved into the path of storm by using watercraft (or by using other techniques) to move vessels into desired placements or positions," the application explains. "Coastline may be desired to be protected...Coastline may include beaches, coral reefs, atolls, islands, communities, buildings, etc."

However much that sounds like the plot of a Michael Crichton novel or the musing of an Ian Fleming villain, the patent application itself boils down Gates and his co-inventors' idea into the driest possible legalese, describing "a method of environmental alteration, [comprising of] a placement of at least one vessel capable of moving water to lower depths in the water via wave-induced downwelling."

In addition to using boats to manipulate seawater, the application also explores other areas of hurricane-stoppage.

"Another potential solution involves the use of Dyn-O-Gel, a polymer that may absorb as much as 1,500 times its own weight in water to deprive a hurricane of atmospheric moisture," reads a later section. "The concept involves the use of airplanes to drop Dyno-O-Gel into hurricanes to deprive them of moisture and thus of latent heat. The powder is suggested to convert into a gel when the atmospheric moisture is captured and would then reliquify when it encounters higher-osmolality ocean water."

That particular solution "has been met with great skepticism and the cost and feasibility are uncertain."

If approved, the patent would legally belong to Gates and his co-inventors for a period of 18 years. Hurricanes that smash with sufficient strength into the U.S. coastline have the potential to cause tens of billions of dollars in damage and kill dozens. But there is also the question of what sort of environmental impact the hurricane-killing idea would have if it succeeded.