Printer Friendly Version

Back to Tropical Cyclones Myths Page | Back to Main FAQ Page

Subject: C5h) Why don't we try to destroy tropical cyclones by seeding them with hygroscopic particles ?

Contributed by Neal Dorst

Hygroscopic refers to substances which tend to bind preferentially with water vapor molecules. Anyone who has used a salt shaker in humid conditions knows about this, as the hygroscopic salt absorbs water vapor from the air and clumps near the top of the shaker, clogging the holes.

Some people have proposed seeding the inflow layer of a hurricane with granules of some hygroscopic substance. The hope is that these granules will help form tiny cloud droplets, many more than would form naturally. This would tend to 'lock up' the moisture in small droplets, rather than allowing the formation of large drops, which tend to fall out as rainfall. This would cause a weight burden on the inflow, and reduce the hurricane's winds.

There are several assumptions made in this chain of logic. The first is that there are too few cloud condensation nuclei (CCN) available naturally. If there aren't, then adding more wouldn't change things. The next assumption is that more numerous but smaller cloud drops wouldn't coalesce into larger drops, even in the turbulent updraft of a hurricane eyewall. And lastly, it assumes that the increased burden on the updraft outweighs the increase in latent heat released when more liquid water reaches the freezing level. If less water is precipitating out, then more will be freezing.

That's a lot of assumptions, and it would have to be proven in computer models first, then in field tests, that they are valid. Otherwise, you would expend a great deal of money and effort, but not change a hurricane sufficiently.


Woodcock, A.H., D.C. Blanchard, C.G.H. Rooth, 1963: Salt-Induced Convection and Clouds, J. of Atmos. Sci., 20, 2, pp. 159-169.

Blanchard, D.C., A.H. Woodcock, 1980: The Production, Concentration, and Vertical Distribution of the Sea-salt Aerosol, Ann. NY Acad. Sci., 338, 1, p. 330-347.

Last modified 11/6/2007

Back to Tropical Cyclones Myths Page | Back to Main FAQ Page
Employee Tools
Stay Connected