Cloud brightening ‘could tame hurricanes’

Decreasing sea surface temperatures through cloud brightening could cut the severity of hurricanes by a full category, claims a team of British scientists.

The idea is to target marine stratocumulus clouds, which cover around a quarter of the world’s oceans, to prevent hurricanes forming.

“Hurricanes derive their energy from the heat contained in the surface waters of the ocean,” says Dr Alan Gadian of the University of Leeds.

“If we are able to increase the amount of sunlight reflected by clouds above the hurricane development region then there will be less energy to feed the hurricanes.”

Cloud brightening has long been pitched as a possible way of countering global warming. Indeed, earlier this week, a University of Washington team called for a small-scale test, spraying salt water into the atmosphere to examine the feasibility and effects of bouncing light away from the planet in this way.

But Gadian’s team wants to use the technique in a more targeted way. His calculations suggest it could be used to cut sea surface temperatures by a few degrees, reducing the severity of storms.

One big potential problem is the effect of such seeding on rainfall in surrounding areas. But, says Gadian, it’s possible this could be avoided  by carefully siting the seeding.

“Much more research is needed, and we are clear that cloud seeding should not be deployed until we are sure there will be no adverse consequences regarding rainfall,” he says.

“However if our calculations are correct, judicious seeding of maritime clouds could be invaluable for significantly reducing the destructive power of future hurricanes.”