A SCOTTISH professor has come up with what he claims is a new way to cool ocean surface waters and weaken violent tropical storms like Hurricane Irma which devastated the Caribbean and US coast last week.

Professor Stephen Salter’s 'spray ships' would shoot water into the earth’s atmosphere to increase the amount of sunlight reflected back into space from the tops of thin, low-level clouds and produce a cooling effect.

Salter, who is emeritus professor of engineering design at the University of Edinburgh, previously proposed sinking giant plastic tubes 100 metres under the surface of the sea as a way to cool the temperature of the ocean to under 26.5C, the critical level at which hurricanes form. These tubes would take warm surface water down below to cool it.

The plan, which became known as the Salter Sink, was first presented in 2007 at a US Homeland Security meeting on storm suppression after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 – which caused massive destruction in New Orleans – before it was developed by a tech company backed by billionaire Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

Salter will unveil his new plan for spray ships on Wednesday at the Arctic Science Conference 2017 in Oban, the town which is home to the sprawling European Marine Science Park.

Speaking exclusively to the Sunday Herald ahead of the conference Salter said: “I’ve moved on quite a long way [since the Salter Sink]. The spray vessels are much more mobile. You can move them around to exactly where you want. The cooling that they do is quite a lot more than the cooling that you get from the tubes. If you wanted to stop a hurricane that started life over on the African side of the Atlantic, which is what most of them do, you’d want to start cooling the water along a line from Africa to the Caribbean.

“You could tell them when to stop when they’d done the job. You wouldn’t want to stop tropical storms entirely, you see. You want gentle hurricanes, not the nasty ones.”

Salter has calculated that he’d need around 150 spray vessels to “knock two or three degrees off the temperature that was driving Hurricane Irma”.

He said: “They cost about £3 million each. If you wanted 150 of them you’re not talking about a very big investment if you mortgage that over 25 years, which is the life of most ships. It’s really a rather cheap thing to do and it would be a good investment.”

The ships, which could also help cool the seas around the melting Arctic ice sheets, have proved unpopular with environmentalists who are against artificial efforts to mitigate global warming.

Dr Richard Dixon, Director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: “Stephen Salter is a brilliant man and has had a hugely positive influence on the renewable energy industry, but climate change is an extremely dangerous experiment humankind is conducting with planet Earth, and the way forward should not involve starting new experiments to try to manipulate natural systems.

He added: “Geo-engineering schemes like this give lazy governments, greedy fossil fuel companies and climate laggards an excuse to sit on their hands and hope that a game-changing techno-fix will save the day.”

Salter responded to environmentalists' criticism of his idea, saying: “They’re behaving rather like the people who didn’t like anaesthetics. Anaesthetic were given to women in childbirth and a lot of people thought it wrong to stop them feeling the pain because of all the wicked things they’d been doing.

"They didn’t say anything about the wicked things the men had been doing. Queen Victoria wanted it to be widely known she took anaesthetics when she gave birth and that shut them up. Anyway, the environmentalists absolutely hate this."

He continued: “But I don’t think we have very much more time. The Arctic is melting very fast and that will in turn release methane from the Arctic seabed and make the rate of climate change much faster. I think there is a bit of a panic now and hurricanes are a signal of what else is going to be happening.”


Professor Stephen Salter also revealed that he has held high-level talks with major Scottish engineering firms Ferguson Marine and Clyde Blowers about building his spray vessel 'weather machines'.

Salter said: “The ship design is pretty well advanced. I showed the designs to Ferguson in Port Glasgow [at a joint meeting with Keith Mitchell of Clyde Blowers]. They were very encouraging but I think they want to make sure there’s a customer before they do any hard work on it."

However, he said he believes the idea is difficult to get off the ground because “it doesn’t fit the present capitalist system".

“If you went to a bank and said I’ve got this idea that would save millions of pounds by calming hurricanes they’d want to see how the cashflow would work,” Salter explained. “But you can’t be paid for something you stopped happening.”

He added: “I don’t know if I’ll live to see my idea made because I’m pushing 80. It will depend on how bad next year’s weather is. If there are three hurricanes this year and six next year it might happen quicker."