The interactions between global warming and tropical cyclones, such as Hurricane Sandy and Typhoon Haiyan, are complex at best. While we can’t say that climate change is causing these devastating storms, we do know that it’s making them stronger.
As one of many species that would rather not see its home washed away by a massive tropical cyclone, this knowledge leads to more questions than answers for human kind. In a world where precious few seem to be willing to move away from climate changing fossil fuels, what can humanity do to protect itself from these storms, which are likely to become more frequent and violent?
New research suggests that offshore wind farms could be an unlikely solution to this terrifying problem. A study out of Stanford University found compelling evidence that these ocean-based power plants could be able to siphon power away from topical cyclones, possibly preventing billions of dollars in damages.
For the past 24 years, Stanford professor Mark Z. Jacobson has been perfecting a complex computer model to study air pollution, energy, weather and climate. The tragic destruction of hurricanes Sandy and Isaac, which struck New York and New Orleans, respectively, in 2012, and Katrina, which devastated New Orleans in 2005, got Jacobson thinking about what his sophisticated model could teach us about reducing the destructive power of future storms. In a time when many countries are planning significant offshore wind development, Jacobson wondered if the new ocean power plants would impact the storm or just get destroyed.
He entered details about weather and climate conditions from the three previously mentioned storms into his modeling system, and the results were quite surprising.
“We found that when wind turbines are present, they slow down the outer rotation winds of a hurricane,” Jacobson told Stanford News. “This feeds back to decrease wave height, which reduces movement of air toward the center of the hurricane, increasing the central pressure, which in turn slows the winds of the entire hurricane and dissipates it faster.”
That’s right folks, in addition to being a far safer way to extract energy from the ocean (I’m looking at you offshore oil drilling industry), offshore wind farms could actually protect coastal areas from tropical storms.
In the case of Katrina, Jacobson’s model revealed that an array of 78,000 wind turbines off the coast of New Orleans would have significantly weakened the hurricane well before it made landfall.
In the computer model, by the time Hurricane Katrina reached land, its simulated wind speeds had decreased by 36-44 meters per second (between 80 and 98 mph) and the storm surge had decreased by up to 79 percent.
For Hurricane Sandy, the model projected a wind speed reduction by 35-39 meters per second (between 78 and 87 mph) and as much as 34 percent decrease in storm surge.
Of all the arguments in favor of wind power development I’ve ever read, those three statements are some of the most compelling. Think about all the lives, animals, buildings and natural habitats that could have been saved if were as eager to install wind farms as we are to consume fossil fuels (the same fuels that are feeding these storms in the first place)?
Image via Thinkstock
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