Andrew Pollack's Blog

Technology, Family, Entertainment, Politics, and Random Noise

Saw a pretty cool bit of tech on Discovery

By Andrew Pollack on 09/07/2008 at 09:05 PM EDT

Discover Channel ( has a new series called "Project Earth". The series seems to feature each week a new experiment aimed at solving some aspect of the energy or climate challenges we're told we all face. It looks like some of the shows in the series are pretty oddball -- I saw one that involved giant rotating balloons that were supposed to float all the way up at altitudes where the wind is fast and constant. It looked kind of crazy.

I watched one tonight though, via the DVR, that featured some really cool and simple tech. The idea was to pull cold, nutrient rich water from a thousand feet down in a part of the ocean that lacks phytoplankton so that the water at the surface would bloom. The goal was to build a thriving community of diatoms that would live and die near the surface then fall to the ocean floor -- trapping massive amounts of carbon dioxide in the process. The thing is, for a scheme like this to work you'd have to do it on a huge scale, which means you have to do it cheap.

That's where the cool tech is. The "Pump" they used was awesome. It was nothing more than a valve at the bottom of a thousand foot long plastic tube, which itself was anchored to a float. As the float rises and falls, so does the valve at the end of the tube. The valve opens when when water goes in (the tube is going down) but closes when water tries to flow out (the tube is going up). The result is a perfectly simple pump.

The experiment was a partial success. Water was pumped up, it did contain nutrients, and the area of the sea that 12 days before had been barren to the eyes of the divers, was filled with fish and even a whale shark -- the largest "fish" in the sea, and a consumer of nothing but plankton. On the other hand, the pumps themselves didn't hold up. some simple welds failed causing the pumps to come apart. Of the two, the first one failed almost right away and the second half-way failed early on. Even with only half one one pump however, there was a noticeable change in the seas life almost immediately.

So -- they proved with with very simple, very cheap to produce technology; they could mix those nutrients trapped a thousand feet down back to the surface where they could sustain life. The way the math works, about a million of these things would trap all of the carbon produced by the USA over the course of a year. The phytoplankton themselves -- by just living their life cycles -- and then sinking to the floor of the ocean.

The downside, of course, is that a system like this messes with the balance of life in the oceans and that's pretty dangerous. For example, not all diatom blooms are beneficial. Some are quite toxic. How do you pick which kind of bloom you stir up? The ocean is a BIG and HIGHLY complex system. If you're going to do something big enough make a difference, you're really messing with Sasquatch.

There are  - loading -  comments....

What about El Ni■o and La Ni■a?By Ian Randall on 09/07/2008 at 11:51 PM EDT
Given that the water temperature at a thousand feet is significantly lower than
the water temperature nearer the oceans surface, would not this idea have an
undesirable impact on the El Ni■o and La Ni■a southerm oscillations.

These water currents in the Southern Pacifc not only impact weather and climate
in the pacific rim but also have in impact of the entire worlds climate.

Are we not simply swapping one problem for an even bigger one?
re: Saw a pretty cool bit of tech on Discovery By Bruce Perry on 09/08/2008 at 12:38 AM EDT
You can get large plankton blooms even more easily than this. Iron is a
necessary nutrient for plankton, but there generally isn't much available in
the oceans. Seeding suitable areas with iron fillings has generated blooms.

As you observe, it's a complex system. A lot of study would be necessary
before doing something like this on a large scale.

Other Recent Stories...

  1. 03/21/2018Domino Apps on IOS is a Game Changer. Quit holding back.BOOM. This will be as important for the platform as Traveler. If your company has ditched Notes and Domino, I feel sorry for you. For companies that do use Notes/Domino this is a game changer and Apple should be paying attention. Here's why: There are hundreds of little Notes client applications you'd never spend the time and money to build and deploy for your internal user base on IOS that we use Notes for all the time (those of us still using it). Now, those are suddenly ALL available on the iPad. ...... 
  2. 02/15/2018Andrew’s Proposed Gun LawsThese are my current thoughts on gun laws that would radically change the culture and safety of gun ownership in the United States without removing the rights of gun owners or compromising their privacy rights. * Please feel free to link to, or just copy, these ideas. It would be wonderful to see them spread widely and eventually become the basis for something to rally around and become legislation. Update: 3/3/2018 I added #7, increasing the age to purchase. Update: 4/27/2018 Please be aware that I am not ...... 
  3. 05/05/2016Is the growing social-sourced economy the modern back door into socialism?Is the growing social-sourced economy the modern back door into socialism? I read a really insightful post a couple of days ago that suggested the use of social network funding sites like “Go Fund Me” and “Kickstarter” have come about and gained popularity in part because the existing economy in no longer serving its purpose for anyone who isn’t already wealthy. Have the traditional ways to get new ventures funded become closed to all but a few who aren’t already connected to them and so onerous as to make ...... 
  4. 04/20/2016Want to be whitelisted? Here are some sensible rules for web site advertising 
  5. 12/30/2015Fantastic new series on Syfy called “The Expanse” – for people who love traditional science fiction 
  6. 10/20/2015My suggestion is to stay away from PayAnywhere(dot)com  
  7. 08/07/2015Here is one for you VMWARE gurus - particularly if you run ESXi without fancy drive arrays 
  8. 08/06/2015The Killer of Orphans (Orphan Documents) 
  9. 06/02/2015Homeopathic Marketing: Traveler on my Android is now calling itself VERSE. Allow me to translate that for the IBM Notes community... 
  10. 03/17/2015A review of British Airways Premium Economy Service – How to destroy customer goodwill all at once 
Click here for more articles.....

pen icon Comment Entry
Your Name
*Your Email
* Your email address is required, but not displayed.
Your thoughts....
Remember Me  

Please wait while your document is saved.