HOW TO LIMIT YOUR WIRELESS EXPOSURE
BYE-BYE HURRICANES OR BYE-BYE US?
BYE-BYE-HURRICANES OR BYE-BYE US?
By William Thomas
Serving as chief operations officer for Global Emergency Response, Tom Robinson flies the biggest fire-fighting planes in the world, the mindboggling IL-76 water bomber.
Now he wants to use these huge airplanes to put out hurricanes.
"I have been asked to participate in a federally-funded experiment in Florida, using the water bomber to attempt to minimize or totally disrupt a forming hurricane," he emailed me in December 2009, after listening to my 10th appearance on Coast To Coast.
"Supposedly, if we can drop the temperature of the forming "eye" by just one degree we can alter the outcome. I can deliver up to 18,000 gallons of environmentally-friendly coolant on a single flight and "seed" the eye with a high-pressure nozzle system capable of delivering the chemicals in a mile-wide swath."
That got this former Cessna driver's attention. I called him up.
This longtime pilot and dedicated firefighter is a major fan of the Ilyushin-76. In the 15 years Robinson's been flying IL-76s, there have been zero crashes and no serious accidents.
"These are fantastic planes," he said, rated by Jane's All The World's Aircraft and other aviation authorities as one of the safest planes around.
It's also the only airplane on this planet big enough and strong enough to carry 18,000 gallons of fire or hurricane retardant - and release the entire load in seconds without coming apart or diving out of control.
While hurricane hunters like Dyn-O-Mat's Peter Cordani are enthused over the potential of 7847 Super Tankers in this new role, Tom Robinson wouldn't be caught dead in a converted DC-10 or 747 - mostly because he fears that is how he'd end up. These are passenger planes, he pointed out - "too slick, too fast" and never made to drop big payloads before returning to a five-mile long runway.
The supposed 24,000 gallon drops by converted 747s seen on YouTube are "computer-generated drops," Robinson remarked. Even with just 8,000 gallons onboard, "the wingtips were shaking so violently," the engineer onboard for that first tentative test flight swore he never wanted to get back on.
Wouldn't this chill a baby hurricane instantly?
"If you can lower the ambient temperature in a forming hurricane, you can disrupt it," Robinson says. By delivering 18,000 gallons of super-cool nitrogen mixture into a hurricane's newly-forming eye, "we believe we stop hurricanes."
Problem is, if the liquid nitrogen leaked inside the aircraft, it would supercool the aircraft's structure. In a flash, the airplane would crack and "fall out of the sky" like a ruptured potato-chip bag.
But if that nitrogen could be mixed with a nontoxic compound that would make it less hazardous to airplane structures…
NOAA wants to try. Robinson revealed that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in cooperation with the US Air force and three Florida universities, is offering a multi-million grant to nitrogen-fix hurricanes
"If we can do this full scale experiment with universities in Florida with funding from NOAA, I think we're going to change the world," Robinson asserted.
But when it comes to world-changing, what if we start using nitrogen to suppress hurricanes - and accelerate global warming?
While plain nitrogen is harmless, reactive nitrogen compounds called nitrous oxide are much worse than CO2 in impacting climate. Even today, the unprecedented release of millions of tons of nitrogen fertilizer and vehicle exhaust has been dubbed "the biggest global change that nobody has ever heard of."
When combined with oxygen, a single compound of nitrogen oxide lingers in the atmosphere for a century - and is 300-times more potent a heat-trapping gas than carbon dioxide.
"Those of us who are studying it are pretty scared," says Menlo Park ecologist, Stuart Weisinert. [Inside Bay Area Aug 12/07; University of Virginia Press Release May 15/08]
Right now, the money offered by NOAA is not enough to buy, fly and maintain a single Ilyushin. No worries, though. The Bank of China is eager to step in with financing.
Why are you going anywhere else, the Chinese asked Robinson? "We are the masters of weather modification. We guaranteed no rain for the Beijing Olympics - and there was no rain. We can start and stop the weather when we want to."
"We need an American flag on our planes," Robinson responded.
The Chinese said they understood. But no American airplane can carry enough payload to cool off a hurricane.
The Russian government, which controls deployments of its Ilyushins, is also keen to use their giant water bomber to erase big oil spills by dropping oil-eating enzymes called surfactants. As a member of a three-man environmental emergency response team, I didn't see surfactants working too well in the oil-flooded Persian Gulf after Desert Storm. But maybe communist bugs are hungrier.
Of course, the Kremlin is also eager to bankroll the efforts of Global Emergency Response to snuff nascent hurricanes.
"It scares the hell out of me," Robinson wrote to me. "I am hoping to make contact with more benign U.S. sources to keep this technology stateside."
Should we be messing with hurricanes? Just as some forest fires are needed to replenish soil and nurture new growth, hurricanes act as huge atmospheric air conditioners, shifting large masses of rain-cooled air to where it's needed most.
And that rain can be vital.
"I look at this with a little apprehension," Robinson admitted. Drying up hurricanes means that a lot of moisture is not going to fall where it might be needed. You could cause droughts, he warned. "You have to be very careful."