The next frontier is most definitely the open ocean. Largely not owned by any nation—although the United Nations might someday find a way to claim it—nutrient-rich fluids at 4 degrees Celsius are available 1000 meters below the 20 degree latitude band surface around the equator. Just in this natural solar collector region, if only ONE part in TEN THOUSAND of the insolation (Incoming SOLAr radiaTION) can be converted to useful energy, the needs of society would be satisfied.
This warm portion of the ocean is currently characterized as a wet desert, for the net primary productivity is low, at approximately one tenth that of tropical rain forests. Why so low? Near the equator, wind and current forces are not sufficiently large to cause natural upwelling. Thus, the chain of marine growth is weak. Hawaii, at just above 20 degrees north, is actually a poor location for fish production. Our whales eat in Alaskan waters and come to Hawaii just to breed. Yet, because there is almost ten times more of this ocean space (than rain forests), the total productivities of the jungles and the seas are similar. However, if artificial upwelling can be utilized to support marine growth only at typical land growth efficiencies, we can have ten times the annual production from this portion of the ocean around the equator. An earlier discussion about marine biomass revealed that ocean crops can be ten times more productive than land counterparts. Thus, there is a factor of 100 greater potential possible in these currently infertile waters. Civilization would thus have a new territory capable of producing enormous amounts of marine growth, with an intriguing greenhouse carbon sink opportunity. Let the Great Open Ocean Rush begin!
On land, the food chain is simple, as for example, cows eat grass/corn and provide meat and milk. In the ocean, it all begins with phytoplankton, microscopic plants, which start the food chain. They best grow where there are nutrients. When sea life at the surface dies, it drops to the lower depths and decomposes into compounds of nitrogen, phosphorous and so on, that formed them. If you go down to a depth of 1000 meters (3281 feet), the water temperature is around 4 °C (39°F) and nutrients such as phosphorous and nitrogen are 200 times higher for the former and 20 times for the latter, compared to the concentration at the surface. These ratios will vary, but, if anything, are higher at greater depths, and the analysis is a lot more complicated than I’m making it sound. But under the right conditions, these deeper, more nutrient-rich waters, are naturally brought the surface by a combination of temperature, currents and winds. These conditions seem to be ideal in the cooler and more northerly portions of the oceans. This is why fishing fleets are most successful where the temperatures are cold. Not because fish grows more efficiently at colder temperatures, but because of the availability of sustenance. Sufficient nutrients can only be found in one-tenth of one percent of the ocean where natural upwelling occurs.
Phytoplankton and zooplankton bloom, krill (very small shrimp—tens of thousands per cubic meter when small, but can grow to 6 centimeters at maturity, and is said to be the most successful animal species on the planet, with just one of them, Euphasia superba, equal in weight to all the seafood annually caught) consume them, to be eaten by smaller fish varieties, which in turn are devoured by larger sea creatures. Detritus (decaying life) are then used by crustaceans, then bacteria, to re-start the cycle of growth. At each trophic (food stage) level, 90% of the energy/nutrients are “lost.” This means that, given limited nutrients, you need 100 pounds of sardines to produce 10 pounds of tuna to support 1 pound of marlin. To maximize seafood production, then, if fish is the marketable product, find a species that eats at the lowest possible trophic level. Find one that thrives on algae.
The challenge is whether we can upwell these nutrient-rich fluids and start the growth cycle where the sun shines. David Karl, Roger Lucas and their team from the University of Hawaii and other institutions have found thin layers of marine life forms, call them plankton soup, at the interface of flowing currents. They tend to come and go and are regularly seen only a few degrees north of Hawaii. Can we start this growth using deep ocean water and then control the system such that the complete seafood support cycle can be maintained?
All fisheries are now in some state of decline, some more serious than others, and a few in very critical condition. The World population will continue to grow for some time, and nutritional patterns show a shift away from red meat to seafood. At one time fish was cheaper than meat, chicken and pork. In most markets today, seafood is more expensive. Thus, the change has already occurred. But the seas only produce about 100 million metric tons of food/year, while terrestrial food production is five billion metric tons. Thus, with more than 70% of surface, the oceans only produce 2% of the food we consume.
More than 40% of all fish caught comes from that 0.1% portion of the ocean where natural upwelling exists. But, it is said that the sea already provides more edible protein than land. What if we are able to artificially upwell at profit? This thought led to John Bardach and I co-chairing, with Michael Champ and Jay Weidler a National Science Foundation workshop in September of 1991 on “Engineering Research Needs for Off-Shore Mariculture Systems.” Now, one doesn’t just host such a gathering, attaching the cachet of NSF to it. You need to pull together a team to write a proposal and submit it to a specific scientific government agency interested in that topic. While this would be of the unsolicited variety, there is a peer review, and if the results are compelling, funds are provided. Clearly, if you have a positive relationship with the NSF (or any) program manager, the odds improve for a positive response. Norman Caplan of NSF, and two of his part-time associates, Joseph Vadus and Michael Champ, were particularly instrumental in helping secure the grant. But of course, they, too, felt that this ocean technology system was long overdue and worthy of support. Produced was a 558 page bible on open ocean mariculture, edited by Gregg Hirata. These individuals are all key leaders of the Blue Revolution.
Picture, then, a grazing plantship, powered by OTEC, supporting a marine biomass plantation co-existing with a next generation fishery. The bottom of the pipe is at a depth of 1000 meters. The engineering of the cold water cell still needs to be perfected and the life cycle of this ultimate ocean ranch remains a scientific challenge. The floating structure itself can in time be enlarged into an industrial park or city.
Electricity, air conditioning, aquaculture, pharmaceuticals, freshwater, strategic minerals, biofuels, hydrogen and much more can be produced. In addition to being a manufacturing platform, this grazing ship would serve as a commercial incubator for next generation industries, environmental observatory and scientific laboratory. An armada of these floating structures can in time be networked into an industrial park, then a city. A future stage could well be status as a nation. Mauritius is a member of the United Nations with a population of about a million people, and there is interest on their part to eventually float these platforms to create new nations.
A very complete treatment of the history and applications related to deep ocean water is a book by my namesake and friend, Professor Masayuki Mac Takahashi, formerly of Tokyo University and now with Kochi University, entitled DOW: Deep Ocean Water as Our Next Natural Resource. He covers all the details, with photos and figures, and even mentions the Blue Revolution.
Oil is free falling, down to $115/barrel for the weekend. Predictably, the DJI jumped 303 to 11734.
Tropical Storm Kika is acting very strangely. Only 35 MPH, located 700 miles south of Hawaii, Kika suddenly turned south, then is now, again, going west, and should strengthen. Hernan is now a hurricane, and will gain definition and strength over the next couple of days. The projected path shifts from north to south of Hawaii at seeming random, but there is mostly uncertainty. The odds are that he will weaken by the time it approaches Hawaii.