Cooling a Hot Ocean to Downgrade Hurricanes

Incoming storms off of Satellite Beach 

I stumbled across a really interesting idea detailed in Popular Science that discussed the advantages of using very simple wave-driven pumps to churn up ocean layers beneath the thermocline to attempt to cool surface waters.

The big idea?  Cooler ocean surface temperatures mean less fuel for hurricanes.  In fact they report that

“models show that even a 1ºF drop would reduce hurricane winds by 5 percent. According to Kithil, a drop in wind speed from 120 to 110 mph would reduce property damage by 23 percent.”

I live in Florida, so all of this sounds just peachy.  Except for one thing.  Hurricane season isnt all year.  What happens to the pumps during the winter season when they aren’t necessarily needed out in the Gulf of Mexico?  Or is the idea that sea surface temperature (SST) will remain abnormally high throughout the year, extending the traditional Atlantic hurricane season?  Hmmm. 

And what about preserving the thermocline itself?  The thermocline is an invisible barrier reached at depth that separates shallow waters that are constantly mixed by wind and current action and are warmer than water at depth that is below the thermocline which tends to be less dynamic in flow though of course it still moves.  Any diver can tell you the perils of sinking beneath the thermocline and the goose-bump inducing chill that can follow. 

Upwellings from thermoclines, driven by big storms or shifting current patterns (which are also seasonal), are the motor that drives plankton cycles.  If we disrupt the thermocline … and the feed of cooler water that is potentially nutrient rich is constant … does this mean that plankton will respond with large scale blooms?  Would the blooms become perpetual?  Would the blooms be thick like pea-soup or would the perpetual leak of nutrients cause small-scale blooms that would be manageable to the ecosystem? 

I dont know folks.  Finding genius ways to circumvent hurricanes sounds great to me overall, but hurricanes do some good to the natural environment.  Natural disasters like hurricanes knock down forests and reefs and make way for new colonization and succession.  And they churn up those deep ocean layers and bring up all sorts of nutrients to – you guessed it – plankton.  (Or listen to NASA.)  Loss of housing and property and loss of life isn’t something any of us want to face – myself included.  But I’m not sure that this is really an intelligent method of managing the risk. 

At some point we have to ask whether or not altering – or attempting to control – natural systems is a bright idea.  Especially when that system is as incompletely understood as our planet’s oceans.