Bill Gates, the Hurricane Tamer?

It's the ultimate man vs. nature face-off.

Bill Gates, one of the most powerful men on the planet, appears to be taking on one of Mother Earth's most fearsome forces: the hurricane.

An application filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Jan. 3, 2008, lists Gates and 12 others as the inventors of a number of methods to control and prevent hurricanes.

"Billions of dollars of destruction and damage is regularly attributable to hurricanes and hurricane-like tropical storms," the document says. "Thus, great interest has arisen in controlling these powerful storms."

The document goes on to describe a process of using fleets of vessels to mix warm water from the surface of the ocean with colder water from greater depths in an effort to cool the surface of the water.

Hurricanes draw their strength from condensation driven by heat. That condensation leads to higher wind speeds. By cooling the surface of the ocean, the plan attempts to sap energy from growing hurricanes.

The filings were submitted by Searete LLC, a sub-entity of Intellectual Ventures, a Bellevue, Wash.-based invention acquisition and development firm founded by former Microsoft chief technology officer Nathan Myhrvold.

Patent Submitted by Company Founded by Former Microsoft Exec

A spokeswoman for the company declined to elaborate on the patent application but confirmed that Microsoft chairman Bill Gates was involved in the weather modification plan.

She said Intellectual Ventures, which holds about 27,000 patents for technologies spanning multiple industries, didn't expect the patent to be approved for at least another 18 months.

But Gates and his partners are hardly the first to set their sights on the sky.

"Some people sometimes don't have a grasp of the magnitude or the power of hurricanes," said Moshe Alamaro, a research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "The power of a hurricane is at least the power of all the electric power plants in the world combined."

Still, despite the probable impossibility of actually stopping a hurricane, Alamaro doesn't criticize those for trying. (In fact, he has proposed his own plan for taming hurricanes.)

U.S. Government Once Funded Hurricane Modification

"Regardless of if it's going to work or not, at least we need to explore it because in the process of developing this most likely we will develop something else," MIT's Alamaro said.

From the mid-1960s through the early '80s, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) actively pursued hurricane modification through Project STORMFURY.

Its approach involved "seeding" clouds with a substance (silver iodide and dry ice, for example) with a structure similar to that of ice. It was thought that by spreading the ice-inducing substance in the cloud, they could reduce the intensity of the storm.

However, the project ultimately failed. Scientists learned that hurricane systems already include ice crystals, so introducing new ones would have little, if any, effect.

According to NOAA's Web site, "In the absence of a sound hypothesis, no Federal agencies are presently doing, or planning, research on hurricane modification."

But that hasn't stopped other scientists from plotting.

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