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DHS Hurricane Mitigation: Project HURRMIT and HAMP

The back-to-back devastating hurricane seasons of 2004 and 2005 suggested that hurricanes might be a threat to national security, especially as the climate warms, and by 2008, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) began investigating ways to work with scientists to not only mitigate on-land damage from hurricanes, but possibly to reduce their intensity or alter their paths. In February of that year, DHS' Science and Technology Directorate sponsored a workshop with NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory to identify viable paths to take. The conclusions of the workshop, published in March 2008, were to embark on a modest plan of action: Develop models of certain concepts, narrow those to a few for further testing, and then narrow further to determine one concept that would be worthy of first small-scale and then larger-scale testing.

After the workshop, DHS began by creating Project HURRMIT, an effort to model and determine the effectiveness of some of the most promising hurricane mitigation ideas, such as cloud seeding or wave-driven upwelling pumps, based on numerical simulations and actual historical hurricane data. DHS had also established a separate department-wide program in 2009, called FutureTECH, which was aimed at establishing partnerships between the federal government and the private sector, national laboratories, university scientists and other research groups to develop cutting-edge technologies in line with the department’s assessment of its future needs. Although largely focusing on detecting human-made threats, one of FutureTECH’s areas of “innovative research” was on hurricane mitigation.

But although the modeling has continued, DHS has pulled back from its plans to investigate new technologies and field tests for weather modification. One reason, says William Laska, program manager at DHS' Science and Technology Directorate, may be that the terms “geoengineering” and “weather modification” are still distasteful to both scientists and members of other government agencies. When DHS began approaching these different groups about the possibility of investigating and funding technologies for hurricane modification, “waving the modification/mitigation flag, we got a lot of doors slammed in our face,” Laska says. Furthermore, he adds, “there’s still a sour taste from Stormfury” — a government project that lasted from the early 1960s to the early 1980s and investigated the possibility of seeding clouds with silver iodide to weaken tropical cyclones, but produced inconclusive results.

As a result of this resistance to federal research into geoengineering, Laska says, DHS decided to focus more on basic research to understand hurricanes — particularly the impact of aerosols and cloud microphysics — rather than on developing technologies or methods to modify them. That dovetails nicely with NOAA’s hurricane prediction research, he says, because NOAA hasn’t done a lot of research specifically into aerosols' effect on hurricanes. “The knowledge we’re gaining is going to better help NOAA predict changes in hurricane intensity, and give the [Federal Emergency Management Agency] more time to evacuate people, to do what they need to do,” Laska says.

But this focus on basic research could one day lead the government back to geoengineering. As part of its new effort, DHS has enlisted six scientists, including retired NOAA scientist Joseph Golden, who worked on Project Stormfury, to participate in its Hurricane Aerosol Microphysics Program (HAMP). In May, Golden outlined the HAMP project at the American Meteorological Society’s conference on Hurricanes and Tropical Meteorology in Tucson, Ariz. He emphasized that HAMP is in an early stage and will focus on gathering observations and running model simulations. Only if the results are promising, he noted, might “later phases” of the program include actual storm seeding trials. Laska, cautiously, confirms those plans, but emphasizes that “we want to keep away from saying we’re modifying hurricanes.” [1]

Contracts & Grants Connected to HAMP Studies

HAMP (Project FY2008-06-16);
DHS Contract HSHQDC-09-C-00064;
Projects HURRMIT (CIRA HAMP and WWC HAMP grants);
Israel Academy of Science (grant 140/07);
NOAA Contract #: NA17RJ1228;
Binational US–Israel Science Foundation (BSF) (grant 2006437);
CAIPEEX - NCAR Study (partially funded by HAMP);
Department of Energy (DOE) grant DE-SC0006788;
DoD Center for Geosciences/Atmospheric Research at Colorado State University under Cooperative Agreement
W911NF-06-2-0015 with the Army Research Laboratory;
$64.1 million tax-payer dollars [2]

Media Gallery

Related Timeline Entries



Gramling, Carolyn. "Is it time to invest in entrepreneurial geoengineering?" Earth Magazine, American Geosciences Institute (2012).
"DHS Project HURRMIT: Hurricane Mitigation, HAMP: Hurricane Aerosol & Microphysics Program" SONMI Document Dump (2013).
"Hurricane Aerosol and Microphysics Program (HAMP)" 29th Conference on Hurricanes and Tropical Meteorology, American Meteorological Society (2010).
Klima, Kelly, et al. "Public perceptions of hurricane modification." Risk Analysis: an international journal 32.7 (2012): 1194-1206.

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