Stories tagged coasts

Aug
16
2010

Another tidal generator: But this one is hiding underwater. This is why I didn't know what they look like.
Another tidal generator: But this one is hiding underwater. This is why I didn't know what they look like.Courtesy Fundy
Along with wind and solar, harvesting power from tidal forces comes up a lot in discussions of alternative energy sources.

Was that a horrible sentence? I think it was. What I meant to say is this: we can generate electricity from tides, and lots of it. "Tidal power" is often brought up alongside solar power and wind power, but while I can easily picture windmills and solar panels, I'm not always sure what sort of device we'd use to harness the power in the tides.

This sort of device! For those of you too afraid to click on a strange link (who knows... I could be linking to an image like this!), the article depicts something that looks sort of like a thick, stubby windmill, with blades on its front and back. It's a tidal turbine, and at 74 feet tall and 130 tons it's the world's largest. It should be able to supply electricity to about 1,000 households. Pretty impressive.

Tidal turbines, apparently, are so productive because water is so much denser than water, and so it takes a lot more energy to move it. An ocean current moving at 5 knots (that's a little shy of 6 miles per hour, for the landlubbers) has more kinetic energy, for example, than wind moving at over 217 miles per hour.

At least according to that article, the United States and Great Britain each have enough tidal resources (areas where this kind of generator could be installed) to supply about 15% of their energy needs.

More info on the tidal turbine, which I am calling "the Kraken," because it's big, underwater, and will occupy your mind for only a very short time.

Aug
03
2010

Keep on puffin: These guys definitely can't help you quit.
Keep on puffin: These guys definitely can't help you quit.Courtesy Andreas Trepte

Climate change. Rising seas. GMOs. Humans have such an incredible impact on Earth's environment that it's clear we're now the dominant force of change on Earth. This situation has even led some scientists to rename this geologic epoch the Anthropocene, or the human epoch. But as we alter, tweak, and pollute more each year, what will it mean for the survival of other species into the future?

According to Dr. Stephen Kress, they can look forward to human stalkers and creepy mechanical scarecrows. Kress began his career in the islands along Maine's coast during the late 60s and early 70s. In response to the loss of bird species diversity on many islands, he decided to start a human-led migration program that would move puffins to some of the islands. Puffins had once been abundant in the area, but their population dwindled due to overhunting and egg harvesting.

Still others accused Kress of trying to play God. “We’d been playing the Devil for about 500 years,” says Tony Diamond, a Canadian seabird researcher who has collaborated with Kress for decades. “It was time to join the other side.”
(same article as above)

Yikes: Something tells me they might have had better luck with this guy.
Yikes: Something tells me they might have had better luck with this guy.Courtesy 関西画像創庫

Amid the skepticism of fellow scientists and the stubbornness of birds, Kress persevered and now boasts growing puffin populations on a few islands. But after several attempts to set natural protections and population controls in place, including a mechanical scarecrow to ward off predators, Kress and assistants continue to monitor and protect the puffins themselves. It's the only way they can maintain the new populations. After all, in a human-dominated environment, we get all the benefits and all the responsibilities--a job some might conclude is for the birds.

We are as gods and have to get good at it.
Stewart Brand, Whole Earth Discipline

Jul
14
2010

"Here's what I've lately decided: I'm the little kid in "The Sixth Sense" who sees the dead people. I'm getting really sick of being this Cassandra. I mean, it's kind of miserable."
Peter Ward, Author of "The Flooded Earth"

Salon.com recently interviewed Peter Ward about the future of American cities as sea levels rise. The interview was not just depressing--some of Ward's comments were downright terrifying. Regarding the possibility of ending ocean currents, he commented that with one exception, every past mass extinction was caused by volcanic global warming events. He notes:

"Ocean currents slow down. You lose your wind, everything…. Everything goes stagnant, and a stagnant ocean becomes an oxygen-free ocean, and an oxygen-free ocean breeds very bad microbes."

But perhaps the most disturbing implication in the interview was that in order to be heard, scientists have to weaken their own arguments, which in turn weakens governmental response and public perception of the danger.

"No one wants to be branded as some sort of flaming political agenda-ist. These estimates aren't going down, because the amount of CO2 going into the atmosphere keeps going up. And in fact we keep shooting over the worst level projections that people were saying two or three years ago."

So what can we do? This kind of catastrophic discussion makes my weekly reusable bag use at Rainbow seem like chewing gum in a leaking dam, or maybe that first cap BP put on the well. It may make a tiny difference, but it won't avoid disaster.

After all the reading I've done the last few weeks about climate change, I've begun to think the first step is confronting the evidence as a nation (good luck, right?). The hardest part then is identifying and committing to mitigation/response plans--I say that because we are already deeply impacting our environment in ways that we can't reverse. But I also think that as Ward says, "…wherever there's challenges, there are opportunities." If we're going to make changes on a broad scale, we have to find a way to be optimistic about these very depressing facts.

In preparation for the Future Earth exhibit (more soon!), we've been working with the Center for Coastal Margin Observation and Prediction (CMOP). You can read more about their research and outreach efforts on Science Buzz or on their website. The tagline on their website, "Understanding variability to anticipate change," is just the kind of proactive attitude we need as we face rising sea levels.

"I have a fundamental belief that science and education are essential to prepare our society to anticipate and steer changes."
Antonio Baptista, CMOP Director

Where do you find hope for our future? Please reply in the comments!