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Reducing the intensity of typhoons in China

by seeding tornadic updrafts

 T. V. Prevenslik

11 F, Greenburg Court, Discovery Bay, Hong Kong

Abstract: The intensity of typhoons is proposed reduced by seeding the moisture in updrafts of tornadic regions along the eye and rain bands with solutions of acids or bases to neutralize the pH. How updraft intensity is reduced with neutral pH is given in a theory of thundercloud electrification, the electrification taking place as moisture carried to the upper atmosphere condenses into droplets that supercool and freeze to form graupel, a liquid water and ice mixture. Bubbles are nucleated in the large volume expansion that accompanies the freezing of supercooled water. As the resonant frequency of these bubble cavities coincides with the dissociation frequencies of the water molecule, the water molecules on the bubble walls dissociate by cavity quantum electrodynamics (QED) into hydronium H3O+ and hydroxyl OH- ions, but after recombination, only about 20% of these ions are available for electrification. Usually the moisture in the updraft has an acid pH giving the bubble walls a positive charge that separates the ions available for electrification; the hydronium ions of which are repulsed from the wall to leave the graupel as bubble vapor, the vapor producing positive charged ice crystal clouds. Conversely, the hydroxyl ions available for electrification are attracted to the positive wall and remain in the graupel to form negative charged graupel clouds. By this theory, updrafts are driven by the flow of hydroxyl and hydronium ions from the positive charged earth's surface to the clouds of ice crystals and graupel. Seeding the acid pH moisture in the updrafts with NaOH tends to produce a neutral charged bubble wall. Ions available for electrification are not separated, and therefore the intensity of the typhoon is reduced because of the attendant reduction in the ionic charges driving the updraft.

Keywords: typhoons, updrafts, seeding, cavity QED

1. Introduction

Living in Hong Kong one is always aware of typhoons. Hoisting of the No. 10 signal raises the most fear as it is the sign of an approaching typhoon in the category of an ultimate tropical cyclone having winds of 118 km/hour or more. Is there anything that can be done to stop, or at least reduce the intensity of the typhoon?

In attempting to answer this question, it is useful to review the history of the modification experiments of hurricanes concisely summarized [1] in the Storm Fury chronicle. In the 1940's, modification experiments began with the discovery [2] that carbon dioxide ice could convert supercooled water to ice and the conversion could also be made with smoke [3] containing silver iodide. Since Storm Fury began in 1961, the hypothesis in the modification of hurricanes has generally been based on weakening them by dissipating the thermal energy by the supercooled water in the updraft. The Storm Fury hypothesis was revised in 1969 to include seeding of the first rain band outside the eye wall to create a second outer eye that would cut off the supply of heat and moisture to the inner eye wall. Tested on Hurricane Debbie in 1969, the observations were consistent with the revised Storm Fury hypothesis. But for political reasons and international agreements, Project Storm Fury stalled. During this time, the revised Storm Fury hypothesis was critically reviewed and raised doubt about any future success. Project Storm Fury ended in 1983.

Currently, research in the modification of hurricanes is in large part still directed to cutting off the supply of thermal energy to the storm. The feasibility of spreading a layer of chemicals on the ocean surface first proposed in Project Storm Fury is currently being studied by Professor Emanuel at MIT. Spreading a thin layer of biodegradable vegetable oil on the surface of the ocean [4] has to overcome a number of prohibitive barriers. Not only is a large coat of oil required, but even then, moist air coming in from outside the treated area would continue to supply thermal energy to the hurricane.

Modification of the tornadic updrafts in typhoons may be more readily achieved with space based energy beams. Eastlund proposed [4] to halt tornadoes using microwaves produced by orbiting solar panels. If extended to typhoons, the microwaves would be focussed to heat up cold rainy downdrafts of the tornadic regions along the eye wall or rain bands, thereby suppressing the updraft and reducing the typhoon intensity. It is unlikely, however, that directed energy beams could completely stop typhoons. Although small compared to the storm, the thermal energy in the downdraft is still large so that heating the downdraft is yet another attempt to control a significant amount of thermal energy. Even if the heating of the downdraft in a tornadic region of the typhoon momentarily suppresses the updraft intensity, the tornadic region is likely to form another downdraft that would also have to be heated by the energy beam. But this may be a never-ending process because the storm can always form new downdrafts to feed the tornadic updraft.

Like Project Storm Fury, any method of controlling typhoons based on cutting off the supply of thermal energy even only partially is not likely to be successful because of the magnitude of thermal energy of the storm. Of interest is whether electrical mechanisms are also incapable of controlling the large amount of thermal energy in typhoons. In 1960, Vonnegut [5] proposed various mechanisms to explain the intensification of updrafts in tornadoes, the mechanisms extended here to local tornadic regions along the eye wall and rain bands of typhoons. Electrical mechanisms may be classified as indirect and direct.

Indirect mechanisms to reduce the intensity of tornadic activity rely on the decreased convection caused by the reduced electrical heating of air from the suppression of cloud-to-cloud lightning above the updraft of a tornadic region, the updraft intensity reduced by the decreased buoyancy of the air. The reduction of updraft intensity by the suppression of lightning finds basis in the observation [6] that cloud-to-cloud lightning increases dramatically during tornadic activity. But updraft intensity not always correlates with lightning [7] suggesting that mechanisms other than lightning are at play in updraft intensification.

In this regard, direct conversion of ionic energy to wind velocity may be a feasible alternative to thermal induced buoyancy by electrical heating from lightning. Over 70 years ago, Wormell showed [8] that the largest amount of charge transport between earth and the clouds in storms occurred by the movement of ions rather than by lightning. Vonnegut [5] noted that if the ions are predominantly of the same sign, the conversion of the electrical energy of the ions to kinetic energy of the air takes place directly without heating. In the presence of an electric field, the momentum of the ions is transferred directly to the air causing the air to accelerate to high velocities. However, a source of ions in the atmosphere consistent with the direct conversion mechanism and ways of modifying the source of ions to control the updraft intensity were not identified.

In this paper, Vonnegut's notion of direct conversion of ionic energy to kinetic energy of the air is assessed as a means of controlling typhoons at the tornadic regions along the eye wall and rain bands. The ion source is proposed to be hydronium and hydroxyl ions produced from the dissociation of water molecules in bubbles, the bubble nucleated in the supercooling of graupel. Ion charge separation is shown to occur in the bubbles and depend on the pH of the moisture forming the bubble walls, the pH usually acidic in rain water. Charge separation is ineffective for a bubble wall having a neutral pH. On this basis, typhoon intensity is proposed reduced by seeding the moisture in the updraft o reduce the number of ions available for updraft electrification.

2. Background

2.1 Ion source and charge separation

How ions are related to updraft electrification depends on the manner in which storms are electrified. Electrification is generally thought [9] to occur as moisture carried by updrafts to the upper atmosphere condenses to droplets that supercool and freeze to form graupel, a mixture of ice and liquid water. The graupel in the lower atmosphere is usually thought to be charged negative; whereas, ice crystal clouds in the upper atmosphere have been considered to be positive charged. The positive charge in the upper atmosphere was proposed [10] to be hydronium ions in the lower atmosphere that adsorb to condensed moisture droplets as they are carried to the upper atmosphere, but the source of hydronium ions themselves in the lower atmosphere has never been identified.

The theory of updraft electrification proposed here finds basis in the dissociation of water molecules in bubbles, the dissociation producing hydronium and hydroxyl ions, the bubbles nucleated because of the large volume expansion that accompanies supercooling and freezing, the theoretical basis of which is given in Appendix A. After recombination, only about 20% of these ions are available for electrification. Charge separation depends on the pH of the moisture in the updraft that forms the bubble wall as illustrated in Fig. 1.

Fig. 1 Charge separation and moisture pH

Usually the moisture in the updraft of a tornadic region is acidic ( pH < 7 ) because of the carbon dioxide absorbed from the atmosphere, and therefore the liquid wall of the bubbles in the graupel carries a background of positive charge because of the abundance of hydronium ions. The hydronium ions available for electrification are repulsed by the positive charged bubble wall and tend to the center of the bubble to form the bubble vapor; whereas, the companion hydroxyl ions are attracted to the surface of the bubble wall. Basic ( pH >7 ) moisture caries a background of negative charge because of the abundance of hydroxyl ions, the vapor leaving in the bubble charged negative and graupel positive.

2.2 Graupel and ice particles

Upon freezing, contraction of the graupel forces micro droplets of the positive bubble vapor of hydronium ions through a thin ice shell into the atmosphere, the droplets first observed [11] under photo-microscopy. The hydroxyl ions remain to give the graupel a negative charge. Ice crystal particles are formed by the vapor deposition of hydronium ions from the bubble, the ice crystals forming positive charged ice crystal clouds. Graupel carrying hydroxyl ions form negative charged graupel clouds as they fall to lower altitudes are illustrated in Fig.2.

Fig. 2 Graupel Particle

    1. Ion flow and electric fields

Storms over land or ocean of the earth's surface are electrified by the flow of ionic charge from clouds of ice crystals and graupel to and from the earth's surface. Indeed, storms provide the mechanism that maintains the global circuit where the ionosphere is charged positive and the earth's surface charged negative. Under normal conditions, the electric field points from the ionosphere to the earth's surface. Positive charge drifts to the earth so that at the time of a storm the earth's surface is charged positive and the electric field points to the ionosphere shown in Fig. 3.

Fig. 3 Storm conditions

Cloud-to-ground lightning and return stroke.

Graupel clouds falling under gravity discharge with the positive charged earth as cloud-to-ground lightning. Subsequently, the return stroke discharges the earth's positive charge to recharge the ionosphere. The storm updraft is intensified in the return stroke by the upward acceleration of air by the electrical force induced by positive charged hydronium ions and upward pointed electric field.

3. Analysis and results

Tornadic updraft as a flow of charge by conduction is proposed driven by ice crystal clouds of hydronium ions in the return stroke following a cloud-to-ground lightning strike shown in Fig. 3.

Considering the moisture in the updraft to have a liquid water content L, the number density n of hydronium and hydroxyl ions is,


where, m is the mass of the graupel particle. NI is the number of hydronium or hydroxyl ions per particle, NI = 0.2 NB NS . NB is the number of bubbles per particle, and NS is the standard unit of SL, NS ~ 2x105.

 The number density n of hydronium ions leaving the graupel is assumed to be equal the hydroxyl ions remaining in the graupel, the latter estimated on the basis of the smallest possible graupel mass m that does not induce electrical breakdown of atmospheric gases. The electrical field Ef at the surface of a graupel particle of radius r,


where, e o = 8.854x10-12 C2 Nt m-2 is the permittivity of free space, and e = 1.6x10-19C is the unit charge. Breakdown is avoided if the electrical field at the surface of the graupel particle Ef < 3 V / mm that corresponds to NI ~ 4x104 hydroxyl ions and the graupel radius r > 4.3 mm having a particle mass m > 3.3x10-13 kg. Taking the liquid water content L ~ 0.002 kg m-3, the number n density of either hydronium or hydroxyl ions is, n < 2.4x1014 m-3. Hence, the hydronium ion charge density r I < n e ~ 38 mC m-3 and is consistent with the charge density [8] from 10 to 55 mC m-3 and a mean of 32 mC m-3.

The drift velocity VD of the hydronium ions through the atmospheric gases in the presence of the electric field ED in the updraft,


where, m D is the mobility of the hydronium ion in the updraft. Below 15 km, m D ~ 1.3x10-4 m2 (V-s)-1 [12]. Typically, ED ~ 4-10 kV / m [13] giving velocities VD from 0.5 to 1.3 m s-1. Vonnegut gave the criterion for the amount of electrical energy of the ions that is converted to the kinetic energy of the air to be proportional to the ratio of air velocity VA to ion velocity VD. Since updraft air velocities VA may vary up to 50 m s-1, the electric field ED in the updraft is a very efficient means of intensifying the updraft as electrical heating is negligible. The acceleration A and velocity VA of the air,




where, H is the height of the tornadic updraft, g is the gravitational constant, g ~ 9.81 m s-2, and r A is the density of air, r A ~ 1.2 kg m-3. For ED ~ 4-10 kV/ m and r ~ 38 mC m-3, A ~ 1.2 to 3.1 m s-2. Taking H ~ 300 m consistent [5] with Vonnegut, the updraft air velocity VA ~ 27 to 43 m s-1 and is consistent with observed updraft velocities up to 50 m s-1.

4. Summary and Conclusions

The Vonnegut proposal that the electrical field during the storm drives tornadic updrafts containing ions appears tenable. Supercooled water nucleates very large numbers of bubbles in a graupel particle, the updraft containing an innumerable number of graupel particles. After about 80% recombination, about 4x104 hydronium and hydroxyl ions per bubble are available for updraft intensification.

Separation of the ions available for electrification takes place in the bubbles. Typical moisture in the updraft has an acid pH, and therefore the walls of the bubble in the graupel are charged positive. The hydronium ions available for electrification are repulsed from the positive charged wall to form the bubble vapor, the hydronium vapor leaving the graupel in the bubbles to produce positive charged ice crystal clouds. Conversely, the hydroxyl ions available for electrification are attracted to the positive wall and remain in the graupel to form negative charged graupel clouds.

Updraft intensity is proposed suppressed by seeding the updraft of the typhoon with a basic solution of NaOH, the objective being to neutralize the typical acidic pH of the moisture in the updraft. feeding the storm. Neutral moisture produces bubble walls that are ineffective for separating the ions available for electrification, thereby reducing the acceleration of the air in the updraft from which the intensity of the typhoon is reduced.

Experiments are needed to verify the proposed seeding of tornadic updrafts before the question whether anything can be done to reduce the intensity of typhoons is answered.


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 Appendix A

EM energy in bubble nucleation

How atmospheric electricity is related to the EM energy in bubble nucleation and collapse finds basis in the phenomenon of sonoluminescence (SL). SL may be described [A1] by the emission of ultraviolet (UV) and visible (VIS) photons during of the cavitation of liquid water, but is also known to dissociate water molecules and produce hydroxyl ions [A2].

The Planck theory of SL [A3] postulates the SL photons are produced from the concentration of Planck energy E in the bubble wall surface molecules because of the EM energy produced in the bubble cavity during nucleation or collapse. The Planck energy E of the EM radiation is,


where, h is Planck's constant, u = c / l is the bubble resonant frequency, c is the speed of light, and l is the wavelength of the bubble resonance. In a spherical bubble of radius R, the bubble resonance may be considered to have a wavelength l ~ 4R and frequency u ~ c / 4R.

 Harmonic oscillators and ZPE

 In the Planck theory of SL, the bubble wall surface water molecules may be considered to produce EM radiation from vacuum ultraviolet (VUV) to soft X-ray frequencies even though the bubble wall is at ambient temperature. This is consistent with the zero point energy (ZPE) included in the original formulation [A4] of black body radiation by Planck and for whom the Planck theory of SL is named.

The Planck theory of SL treats each surface molecule on the bubble wall as a harmonic-oscillator, the normal modes of which correspond to the field modes of the bubble cavity that include the ZPE. Planck’s derivation of ZPE was based on the principle of least action that relates Planck's constant h to areas in the amplitude-velocity space of harmonic oscillator solutions, but the physical rationale are obscure. In the Planck theory of SL, the derivation of ZPE follows as the logical consequence of the bubble cavity containing temperature independent Planck energy EG. The Planck energy E in the bubble cavity,


where, ET = hu / ( exp (hu / kT ) - 1) is the usual temperature dependent Planck energy, k is Boltzmann's constant, and T is absolute temperature. EG is the temperature independent Planck energy described by EM waves or cavity field modes, the standing waves depending on the bubble geometry G. The Planck energy ET is observed to converge to kT at wavelengths l > 100 microns as shown at T ~ 300 K in Fig. A-1.

The cavity field modes correspond to standing EM waves having a Planck energy EG = hu f, where u f is the fundamental resonant frequency of the bubble cavity. Since the Planck energy EG is formed by pairs of harmonic-oscillators on opposing bubble wall surfaces, the ZPE of each harmonic-oscillator in the pair is half of the full Planck energy EG,

ZPE = ˝ EG = ˝ h u f (A.3)

The ZPE is restricted by cavity QED. Since the bubble resonant frequency u f varies from VUV to soft X-rays, low frequency ZPE is inhibited by QED from the bubble cavity, u < u f. Only high frequency ZPE may exist in the bubble cavity, u > u f .

Thermal equilibrium of EM radiation

In the Planck theory of SL, the surface water molecule VUV emission is not in equilibrium with the temperature of the bubble wall. Stimulation of VUV states of the surface molecules at ambient temperature occurs through the ZPE. Consistency [A4] is found with Planck's general blackbody spectrum density r (u ,T ) restricted here for cavity QED by,

where, u > u f (A.4)

Boyer's random electrodynamics [A5] is consistent with Planck, but the ZPE in both Planck and Boyer formulations differs from that by Einstein and Hopf [A6] who excluded the ZPE because they neglected the interaction of radiation with the walls of a cavity.

Fig. A-1 Temperature dependent Planck energy ET

The Planck theory of SL is consistent with Planck and Boyer in the assertion that VUV emission may be stimulated by ZPE at ambient temperature in the same way as if the surface molecules were irradiated with a VUV laser. In this regard, Planck stated that the ZPE provides an explanation of atomic vibrations that are independent of temperature, specifically citing as an example the temperature independence of electrons liberated by the photoelectric effect. In contrast, the Einstein and Hopf formulation of black body radiation requires for the stimulation of VUV emission (~ 10 eV) an unrealistic temperature of about 100,000 K.

Inhibited EM energy

In the Planck theory of SL, the source of Planck energy is the EM radiation in the water molecules of the bubble wall that during nucleation is inhibited from the bubble cavity by QED. Consider the liquid water continuum in a state of hydrostatic compression at ambient pressure P0 is shown in Fig. A-2(a).


Fig. A-2 Bubble nucleation with surface tension

 For the purposes of discussion, a hypothetical spherical volume of radius R0 is depicted. At ambient temperature T, all water molecules in the continuum, and specifically those within the hypothetical volume emit IR radiation. The IR radiation having a long wavelength compared to the size of the hypothetical volume is directed in random directions, the IR radiation depicted by arrows. If the continuum is perturbed to produce a state of hydrostatic tension a bubble nucleates as shown in Fig A-2(b). But because of surface tension S, the size of the bubble can not be less than a prescribed limit, the expanding liquid bubble wall of radius R separates from a tightly bound core of water molecules, the core depicted by the hypothetical radius R0 = 2S / P0, where R > R0. Briefly, an annular space isolates the core from the bubble wall, the core corresponding to the hypothetical volume emitting IR radiation. But the IR radiation is abruptly inhibited by cavity QED by the annular space, the inhibited IR radiation depicted by the arrows confined to the bubble radius R. The inhibited IR radiation is a loss of EM energy within the bubble cavity that is promptly conserved by a gain in the IR energy deposited on the bubble wall, the IR energy accumulating to VUV levels.

The IR radiation accumulated at the bubble wall is of interest as the Planck energy reaches VUV levels that dissociates the surface molecules into hydronium H3O+ and hydroxyl OH- ions, and produces OH* excited states. For a spherical core of water molecules of radius R0, the available EM energy UEM is,


where, Y is the EM energy density, Y ~ 6 x ˝ kT / D 3 for a liquid water molecule having 6 DOF and D is the spacing between molecules at liquid density. Figure A-1 shows the energy of the average harmonic oscillator to be concentrated at wavelengths l > 100 mm. Hence, the bubble need not be small to inhibit IR radiation. Since the wavelength l of a standing optical wave in a spherical bubble of radius R is, l ~ 4R, the condition for inhibited IR is R < l / 4 ~ 25 mm.

 Accumulated Planck energy and production of photons

 During nucleation, the EM energy is concentrated as Planck energy E on the molecules of the bubble wall of radius R. The total Planck energy UPlanck,


where, Np is the number of photons that may be lower bound by the Nm of surface molecules, Np > Nm ~ 4p R2 / D 2. If all the available EM energy UEM inhibited during nucleation is conserved with the Planck energy UPlanck of the surface molecules,


Consider a bubble at T ~ 300 K having a radius R ~ R0 = 1.4 mm corresponding to surface tension S ~ 0.072 Nt / m. Taking the spacing D = 0.3 nm as representative of water, the EM radiation accumulated in the bubble wall surface molecules in the VUV have a Planck energy E ~ 120 eV. Hence, the Planck energy is more than sufficient to promptly dissociate water molecules on the bubble surface to form excited hydroxyl states *OH. Since Ar atoms in the atmosphere dissolve in the water, Ar*OH excimers are produced from the *OH excited states on the bubble wall in the high pressures that accompany bubble collapse. In this arrangement, the light emission observed in bubble collapse is caused by decomposition of the Ar*OH excimers [A7] upon the pressure rarefaction wave, the excited *OH states produced [A8] by inhibited IR by cavity QED.


[A1]H. Frenzel, H. Schultes, Ultrasonic vibration of water. Z. Phys. Chem., 27B, (1934) 421-424.

[A2]Y.T. Didenko, S.P. Pugach, Spectra of sonoluminescence. J. Phys. Chem., (1992) 9742-49.

[A3] T.V. Prevenslik, Dielectric polarization in the Planck theory of sonoluminescence. Ultrasonics-Sonochemistry, 5 (1998) 93-105.

[A4]M. Planck, Theory of Heat radiation, Translated by M. Masius, Dover 1956.

[A5] T.H. Boyer, Classical statistical thermodynamics and electromagnetic zero-point radiation. Phys. Rev., 1969, 186:1304-1318.

[A6]A. Einstein, L. Hopf, Further investigations of resonators in radiation fields. Ann. Physik.,1916, 33: 1105- 1115.

[A7]T. Lepoint, F. Lepoint-Mullie, N.Voglet, S. Babar, J-C Mullier , R. Avni R Observation of 'Ar-HO' van der Waals molecules in multibubble Sonoluminescence. Ultrasonics International 2001, T.U. of Delft, 2-5 July 2001.

[A8]T.V. Prevenslik (2001) Cavitation induced Becquerel effect. Ultrasonics International 2001, T. U. of Delft, 2-5 July 2001.