A Norwegian company called OceanTherm has hatched an ambitious plan to halt one of the most destructive forces of nature, and aims to do so using nothing more than bubbles. By floating pockets of air up from deep beneath the waves, the firm hopes to be able to reduce ocean surface temperatures, thereby depriving storms of the energy they need to develop into hurricanes.
Known as “bubble curtain” technology, this bold solution works by feeding compressed air into perforated pipes on the ocean floor. As the bubbles rise, they bring with them cold water from the deep, ultimately cooling the surface.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), hurricanes form when warm water evaporates from the ocean surface and meets cool winds blowing across the sea. The risk of a tropical storm developing into a full-blown hurricane is greatest when surface temperatures exceed 26.5 °C (80 °F).
By laying a bubble curtain across strategic regions of the Gulf of Mexico, OceanTherm hopes to maintain surface temperatures below this critical point during hurricane season, thereby reducing the threat of catastrophe. In an interview with FOX4Now, the company’s CEO Olav Hollingsaeter said the idea first occurred to him after witnessing the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
A retired Norwegian Navy officer, Hollingsaeter revealed that initial tests have provided some encouraging results. “[At a depth of] 100 meters [328 feet], we found waters cold enough to reduce the surface temperature below 80 degrees [Fahrenheit],” he said.
According to the company’s website, similar technologies have been used for years to keep Norway’s fjords ice-free in winter. However, OceanTherm says it now intends to set up a bubble curtain at a depth of 200 meters [656 feet], which would represent the deepest application to date.
By cooling surface temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico, the company says that tropical storms could be kept “relatively weak”. When such a storm makes landfall, the result is “no picnic, but lives are saved and millions of dollars in damage is prevented.”
Unsurprisingly, the creation of this bubble curtain is likely to be rather expensive, with the total price for all upcoming tests being estimated at $17.3 million. However, given the financial havoc wreaked by hurricanes, OceanTherm believes that this investment will pay dividends.