Can Diaper Gel Stop Hurricane Rita?

My inbox was flooded today with emails about a Fox News story that ran earlier today. Can Diaper Gel Stop a Hurricane? Fox News reports that a Florida businessman thinks he has a way to stop Hurrican Rita using the superabsorbent polymer found in baby diapers. Peter Cordani wants to fly ten 747s into the hurricane filled with the water-absorbing polymer he calls Dyn-O-Gel. Cordani believes it could slow down and maybe even stop the hurricane.

I watched the streaming video of the original interview and a few things catch my attention. First of all, Cordani claims that the superabsorbent polymer (the actual chemical name for this is sodium polyacrylate) has an endothermic (or cooling) feature and it will cool the storm down up to 20 degrees. This is news to me… and to the thousands of high school chemistry students who conduct a standard lab using the diaper gel each year. Using a simple temperature probe, students determine that the physical reaction that takes place between the polymer and water is neither endothermic or exothermic. I’m no expert but I don’t think that the diaper gel would have any affect on the temperature of the water. But the notion of using the superabsorbent gel to slow down the progress of the hurricane is truly interesting.

What do you think?

21 replies
  1. DT
    DT says:

    * Will sodium polyacrylate degrade into something harmless once in the ocean? Or would we be adding a persistent, possibly harmful, chemical to the ocean?

    * How much water will sodium polyacrylate actually absorb out of the moisture in the hurricane and pull down to the ocean? I have to think that it will be less than in a constant liquid contact scenario (i.e. baby’s diaper).

    * Assuming significant amounts were absorbed, wouldn’t pulling water out of the hurricane also pull energy out and, in fact, cool the hurricane?

    I guess questions like that would have to be answered first. I have no idea what sodium polyacrylate degrades into over time, if it degrades. Given minimal impact to the ocean below and some mathematical models showing it might actually help, it would be worth a try.

  2. Jared Krueger
    Jared Krueger says:

    Consulting the Materials Safety Data Sheet reveals some interesting problems:

    “Dust dispersed in air becomes explosive when exposed to ignition source.”
    I think that ends the idea right there. If the first plane doesn’t ignite the airborne particles, I sure wouldn’t like to be the next pilot flying through the area! (Flammability rating of 2)

    “May cause irritation to skin, eyes and respiratory tract.”
    Again, sounds like something that would be bad to release in mass quantities into the air.


  3. Kevin
    Kevin says:

    Check out the flammability of ordinary flour – it’s just as flammable. Any fine powder dispersed in the air is flammable – you’re increasing the surface area of the particle by dispersing it in the air. Ever blown flour into a fire? Huge fire ball. Let’s face it, saw dust in the air is highly flammable. So, flammability is not really the issue. As soon as the polymer is exposed to water, it immediately swells. The real problem I see is that it would be almost impossible to disperse it evenly to even be effective.

  4. Jared Krueger
    Jared Krueger says:

    I disagree, Kevin — I think you missed my point. I’m fully aware of the points you make about other powders being flammable. The thing is, flour and sawdust are not usually airborne in mass quantities either, and certainly not dropped by numerous 747s. My response could very well be the same if the individual had suggested dropping sawdust or flour in mass quantities from the air. Flammability **could** definitely be an issue, depending on the plan. Sorry, but your logic does not apply.

    I do realize that it probably **wouldn’t** be an issue due to timing and dispersion of the product, but that would be why it might not be too large of an issue, not because of the points you make.

  5. Kevin
    Kevin says:

    You’re right, Jared. Okay, so you caught me on a bad logic day. But I did try to light some of the diaper polymer (I got a jar years ago from a magic shop – they call it slush powder) on fire by dispersing it in the air and I couldn’t get the damn stuff to ignite at all. I know, I have no life but I just had to fine out how flammable it was – NOTHING! But I’m sure some idiot in a lab found a way to torch some of it under extreme conditions – and now we’re talking about it.

  6. Jim Stryder
    Jim Stryder says:

    In the late 1960’s and 70’s NOAA experimented with cloud-seeding using hygroscopic particles such as salt crystals to see effects on storms as such!

    To this day, no major changes in strength or direction a storm takes had been noted! Bottom line here, don’t mess with “Mother Nature”! I even had someone suggest exploding a small nuclear device inside the “eye”, that would be the worst thing you could do, it would only add significant energy to the storm, since hurricanes rely on heat as an energy “engine”!

    Another approach is needed all around!

  7. martin
    martin says:

    Typically, 1 gram of superabsorbant absorbs 350 g of distilled water and 50 g of salt water (1 wt percent salt in water).
    Dispersion in Air is a minor problem
    Fire is a smaller problem, yet.
    The environment is a huge problem but potentially alleviated by making biodegradable or at least UV degradable.
    Is ten planes enough?
    Condensing water vapor into liquid vapor does have thermdynamic effects unlike simple absorption of liquid water. However cooling the hurricane is probably not as important as turning off the rise of water vapor through the eye. Targeting the eye could weaken the storm, but the momentum of the hurricane is so great that it might be trivial in effect or require a lot more planes. Just my thoughts

  8. Steve
    Steve says:

    The salt issue is a non-issue. The water in a huricane is freshwater. It gets up there via evaporation, which leaves the salt behind.

  9. Lord of all
    Lord of all says:

    why not just make dams out of the material, that can be opened during a potential hurricane to stop the flooding effect of hurricanes ? hurricanes are fresh water but the flood water may be salt water.

  10. franz
    franz says:

    I fully agree with Jared, simply put. An environmental disaster. You would need a gigaton of diaper polymer to have an effect on the storm, [hundreds of airplanes]. You would have to train hundreds of pilots. There are so many things wrong with this plan its not even funny, even if it does work which is extremely unlikely, that will cause more problems with the jet stream. It would have a counter-effect causing more tornado development. Every idea thought of for “destroying” hurricanes is simply not practical given the size and power involved.

  11. blueberd16
    blueberd16 says:

    I agree w/Jared there would be too much of this stuff to clear away. We already have problems w/pollution in the air and water…this would add more to both. We won’t be able to stop a storm of such magnitude so instead of focusing on trying the impossible we should make better defense/warning systems against storms. The few minutes or even hours that are given is just not enough.

  12. valerie
    valerie says:

    I thought it was very interesting! When I googled something for homework I saw the title of this article and I first thought that it was funny but it could be possible. I started to wonder if diaper gel could actually stop Hurricane Rita. I couldn’t help but click on the title and find out!

  13. Mike
    Mike says:

    Do you think it would be possible to trick a hurricane to think it was going over mountainous land by using lasers to create a virtual body of land in the middle of the ocean?

  14. chris
    chris says:

    ”What, I don’t even belive it one bit! I find to be stupid as can be and there is no way to stop hurricanes or tornadoes!!” why don’t you let them be, you can not defeat them in any shape or form, we must understand that we must prepare for it, not stop it ,Because i belive trying to stop natural disaters is impossible and there will never be a way. We must learn form them because by messing with them, you will just make the weather alot worse. Mother nature is angry enough and she’s not going to go for it one bit.

  15. Thomas
    Thomas says:

    The very purpose of a storm is to correct an unbalance in the atmosphere. So, let’s say that we suceed in stopping a hurricane. There will just be another, more pwerful one following it. The cause of the unbalance must be corrected. Everyone is trying to treat the symptom and not the cause. Let us try to focus all of our scientific research and efforts into what is causing hurricanes to develope. We as human beings are unstoppable when we all push in the same direction, but if everyone is going in fourty-two different directions, nothing will get accomplished. Let’s put our petty differences aside for a few weeks and work together to solve something!!!


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