Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Hungry Ocean

In the sixth episode of the Project Earth series, Hungry Ocean, airing right after Infinite Winds, the team is back to test a new theory about eliminating dead zones from our oceans.

The team plans to experiment with large pumps to basically filter the ocean thus allowing better oxygen retention. If the ocean can hold oxygen better, populations of fish and phytoplankton can rebound in these areas. If the Project Earth team can succeed in bringing life to dead zones, the zones will be able to absorb large quantities of carbon dioxide.

updates from the show:
I was very wrong with my initial thinking...

Oceans absorb almost half of our current co2 emissions. The cause of this is not actually the ocean it self, but the life in the ocean. Phytoplankton is a type of plant that thrives in nutrient rich oceans. All plants use basic nutrients and carbon dioxide to grow. When the phytoplankton die, their bodies fall to the ocean floor and the carbon that they used to grow stays in the bodies removing carbon from the atmosphere.

The identified problem shown by this episode is that there are many places in the ocean where currents of water do not circulate from the ocean depths to the surface. If water was brought up with pumps from the nutrient rich ocean bottom, the pumps can promote plankton growth.

The Project Earth team plans on using pumps attached to buoys. The buoys will float on the surface of the ocean and the water pumps will dangle 1000 feet below. Between the pump and the buoy is a long tarp in the shape of a straw.

The pump design is very simple, there are no mechanical moving parts. Only the natural movement of waves is needed to pump the water up. The pump is a one way valve, only allowing water to go in the bottom. When the wave is at its lowest point, water is gulped into the pump. When the wave begins to pull the buoy back up, the valve closes and water is pulled up. This happens with every wave creating a very effective pump.

The team's results were mixed. Unfortunately, both pumps broke after they were deployed. The failures were chalked up to poor engineering in the welds that held the tarps together.

The first pump failed completely, it did not pump at all. Fortunately, the second pump did indeed work for a little longer then a half of a day.

The second pump actually proved the concept worked. Their sensors showed cooler water flowed up through the tubes for the limited amount of time that they worked.

If they get their design fixed, they may actually have a very good idea here.

The only concerns with this experiment are unwanted, toxic algae blooms.


Anonymous said...

Kevin you got it all wrong.

It is not directly related to dead zones, which are low-oxygen regions (which could occur in the upper ocean or near the ocean floor - or both).

It is all about low-plankton regions in the upper ocean. They are low in plankton because the nutrients needed by plankton are mostly absent. The pumps bring up nutrients from 1000 feet deep. This helps more plankton grow, which absorbs dissolved CO2 and produces oxygen. Just like a leaf on a tree.

I am the inventor of the pump and CEO of Atmocean, Inc. which manufactures it. Check out (currently getting an upgrade - wait until next week for the updated version).

Early Ehlinger said...

This technology should be applied to hurricane control. The pumps bring cold water to the surface along with nutrients. Hurricanes thrive on warm water. Dissipate the heat, you take away their fuel, and soon enough, there is no hurricane.

Anonymous said...

I suspect part of the reason the pumps failed was due to excessive water pressure inside of the tubes used to bring the water to the surface. It would have been nice if they'd included tension sensors on the cable connecting to the pump valves -- on sensor just above the valve, and another on the cable continuing further down. Take the net pressure (in pounds) of upwards pull on the valve, divide by the number of square inches of surface of the valve, and you have the PSI inside the tube. If excessive pressure
were indeed the problem, then there's a very simply solution -- use a less bouant bouy.

Ken Grubb said...

I watched the program last night. IIRC, the pump failed because the welds didn't hold. Also, it appeared that the tube ripped.

Forgive my simplistic assessment, but it seems that the initial data clearly indicates the concept will work, and quite well. It's merely a matter of designing and building a more robust pump and using a more durable material for the tube.

Divers were in the water before and after. There was a huge abundance of sea life in the water after. It seems the fish, including a young whale shark, figured out there was something of interest in the area. I suspect most of the fish found an increase of plankton--either that or they just wanted their 15 minutes of fame.

Early Ehlinger said...

Indeed - it does look quite promising. The strength of the system is but an engineering detail; the concept is sound.

These should be deployed by people near the gulf coast and in other areas prone to hurricanes. Not for the con job reasoning of "to mitigate anthropogenic global warming" but for the purpose of improving the lives of those in hurricane-prone regions.

nick said...

reminds me of OTECs. Ocean Thermal Energy Converters pump water up from deep down (about three times deeper than this experiment) and use the cold water to condense steam. The steam is made by evaporating hot surface water in a partial vacuum. The steam turns a turbine to make electricity. One by-product of OTEC is the nutrient rich water that can be used for aquaculture. Very cool stuff.
I would love to see a tv special on OTECs.

Anonymous said...

If these plankton do not live in the areas you want to move them to, are you sure the only reason is lack of nutrients? If you're worng you may cause more dammage by forcing the relocation of them. spreading them too thin or perhaps the temp change could easily kill such a small organism. Not to mention the animals that feed off them would they be affected? Why not try adding the the missing nutrients instead of stirring up the oceans? It seems like all these ideas are "half-baked" no one seems to see the big picture of things, we need to reconsider all these ideas and look at what we are actaully doing. We do need ideas but lets make the smallest footprints. We need to stop changingthe planet's natural way and start thinking of ways to work with it.

Early Ehlinger said...

@Anonymous: This process doesn't relocate plankton - it encourages plankton growth by pulling nutrients from the depths higher. Regarding adding nutrients, I would suggest to you that requires a much larger footprint than simply sucking them up from below. You have to produce the nutrients somehow, ship them to the location in question, dump them over the side.

If you can get these pumps to be durable enough, you can deploy and operate them at a fraction of the cost of producing and shipping new nutrients.

In addition, if you add nutrients as opposed to stirring up existing nutrients, you're bringing in foreign material which will have even less predictable results than using what lies below.

Regarding your premise that we need to stop changing the planet's natural way; if we do, then the misery exacted upon humanity will be astonishing. The planet cannot support the population growth we are currently experiencing without massive innovation. We need to find more effective, beneficial ways to control our environment and make the planet more habitable, not shy away from innovation because we might mess up.

Matthieu (The Netherlands) said...

First of all I think this is the most realistic and by far cheapest and easiest way to reduce CO2 from the atmosphere. Balloons, airwashers, covering ice or sunshields into space are non realistic ideas which cost to much to their ability to decrease CO2.

Beside of this I am a non believer of the idea that 'we' and the usage of fossile fuel make the worlds' climate change.

Yes there is something changing on this planet but is it because of us or because there are some other influences maybe from outer space? (sun etc)

If the amount of CO2 increases trees, plants etc are growing better so at the end there will always be a natural balance. We are doing the same in our greenhouses!

Why do I read news about global warming and at the same time news about global cooling? What do we do if there should be global cooling instead of global warming, burn extra fuel or what?

Before you get angry of my opinion its always good to save energy. If you don't do it to save the planets resources then do it to save your money.

CHANDAN DESAI {9036373792} said...

I liked your idea of bringing deep ocean water on surface. This is very amazing idea and very cost effective way to dump green house gases below ocean. This way could have been used in history which may have formed todays petroleum deposits.I found some ways to make it profitable.
1. Before bringing the water heat the water using surface heat. This will give stable temprature for plankton to grow. This could be done using OTEC way. By heating ammonia and feeding it to generator and then passing this ammonia to heat the deep ocean water.
2. The deep ocean water and surface water have density difference (as it is nutrient rich). This could have created extra pressure on the valve and the pump wall. If pump wall enforced with rings and thread mesh could reduce pressure on wall.Please increas the drum size to hold the weight of ocean water filled in the pipe.
3. The second pump may have worked due to water bubble generated during implementation as the water bubble pushed the water up in the pump and that pulled ocean water. Check if it possible to place water bubble at the bottom and that water bubble will push the water up.
4. If the air seperator is used to seperate deep water and ocean water then it will make the bubble needed at bottom to push ocean water to top and make power generation efficient.
5. Ocean water contain minerals like gold and other heavy metals. If these metals are seperated from water then it will reduce toxicity introduced in food cycle due to deep ocean water.
Please review the comments, your reply is appreciated.

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