Abundant Seas Foundation has been granted the exclusive license by R.E.D. Rabbit, LLC to fabricate and launch the Pelagic Pod (“the Pod”) in polluted oceanic bodies, beginning with the North Pacific Gyre.
The Pod's shell is made of recycled plastic. Inside, the Pod features a geometry that draws plastic particles into the chamber and a proprietary mesh that entangles the particles for permanent sequestration. Moreover, such mesh also absorbs Hydrophobic chemicals. The Pod also helps restore the marine biome. Its exterior shell provides anchor points for biomass to grow and flourish. This is assisted by the Pod's porous scrap metal ballast, which releases iron ion nutrients to feed marine life. Note: biomass growth will increase the base of the food chain and, further, naturally sequester carbon-dioxide.
Therefore, overtime, the each Pod becomes an island sanctuary for new marine life, and it permanently sequesters floating plastic, along with chemical contaminants: toxins that cannot be netted and, thus, are among the greatest threats to the food chain.
The overall design intention for the Pods is to improve the ecological health of the marine environment. To effectively achieve a clear environmental benefit, the Pods must be low-maintenance, durable, relatively inexpensive, continuously operational, powered by sustainable energy sources, easily assembled, deployed, and retrieved, and must have a reliable communication interface for global locational tracking, status monitoring, safety and liability purposes. However, clients do have an option of purchasing a less expensive variation of Pod which does still have a communications interface but does not have data acquisition capabilities.
Essentially, Pods should be ready for anything, deployed and forgotten, and simple yet smart. Once there has been sufficient testing and verification of Pod performance, there may be circumstances in which a bare-bones version of the Pod may be mass-manufactured in an attempt to sequester as much chemical and plastic pollution from ocean gyres as possible.
Function & Operation
The primary operational objective is to collect anthropogenic chemicals and small plastic debris which directly choke and poison sea life as well as subsequently impact higher trophic levels through bioaccumulation and bio-magnification.
The Pod is designed to float with surface water in the same way that the plastic flotsam does. Floating with surface water, thus, enables the Pod to be representative of the physical oceanography of the gyre and thus track the morphology of micro-convergence zones in which plastic flotsam concentrations are highest. During the time that the Pod is tracking the zones of highest concentrations of floating plastic and chemical pollution, it will make use of episodical wave action to direct seawater up peripheral ramps and into openings at the top of the Pod which will admit debris up to the size of a tennis ball.
This size range, tennis ball size and smaller, is categorically the most prevalent and the most difficult to capture and remove from the marine environment. Establishing the upper size limit as approximately the size of a tennis ball is an attempt to prevent animals such as birds and turtles from crawling into the Pod. Essentially, the size constraint of the intake openings are for the safety and well being of sea creatures. If any plants or small organisms enter the Pod, they will eventually biodegrade and not cause filtration disruption.
With each passing wave the Pod receives some volume of surface water which is directed downward into the Pod's internal chamber. Inside the Pod, a density separation process and a plastic micro-fiber scrubber will remove the plastic particles from the seawater. After the plastic particles and hydrophobic chemicals are sequestered from seawater, the seawater continues downward to a lower chamber of the Pod that, at the request of the project sponsor or client, can contain time-release nutrient 'biscuits' derived from sterilized and compressed derivatives of municipal wastewater systems. These 'biscuits' along with optional time-released porous iron ballast are intended to fertilize the surface ocean and increase biological activity. The intended consequence is an invigorated ecosystem that will host healthier and more abundant life which will support fisheries and will mitigate global warming as atmospheric carbon dioxide is transferred into marine biomass.
Also, the Pod inherently serves as a fish aggregating device (FAD) and since an enhanced level of biological activity will surround the Pod, it will provide a food source for supporting commercial fisheries. With time, as more and more plastic debris is accumulated in the Pod's holding tank, the ability to filter hydrophobic chemicals from seawater increases and the the accumulating weight of chemical and plastic trash as well as the biomass building up on the exterior encasement of the Pod is offset by the dissolution of the time-released nutrient 'biscuit.'
The Pod's instrumentation may need periodic calibration and the storage tank may need to be emptied of trash content, and when such conditions are to occur in a near future, calibration and storage status information will be sent to a service team.
Configuration & Construction
Pods are assembled from a minimal number of pieces and are designed such that biofouling is averted by using flexible, self-cleaning, or compliant materials. At this stage of operation control, the Pod is made of five standardized units. These sub assemblies and predetermined parting lines allow for very easy upgrading and replacement abilities for practically all components and features of the Pod. This allows for service ships to quickly switch out chemical scrubbers, instrumentation packages, solar panels, etc. at the site the Pod is found (in situ) such that interruption in environmental remediation and data collection is minimal, and Pods can be upgraded to be compatible to an evolving platform.
Positive buoyancy systems are responsive to changes in ballast and to changes in accumulating exterior biomass and interior sequestered pollution. Air and contained foam are manipulated accordingly.
Considerations regarding transportation logistics suggest that components of Pods should fit within standard shipping containers. Pod construction material will be made almost entirely of recycled materials, the sources of which are practically endless throughout the world and the need for environmental remediation in all of the ocean gyres creates a global demand for recycled plastic. The tremendous supply possibilities benefit local economies wherever the source plastic is collected, recycled, molded, assembled, or deployed.
Pod surfaces must be robust to maximize functional durability, and a way to preserve the plastic body of the Pod from photo-degradation is to use a UV-blocking film on given surfaces. If is is found that certain Pod features are distressing to life forms or the health of ecological processes, then adjustments will be made according to the best available science.
Note: continual improvement in product design will result in ever more efficient production and operation potential.
Communication & Supporting Infrastructure
The Pod's primary role is as a research tool to understand the environmental conditions at flotsam accumulation zones. The present approach to ensuring that this research investment is kept at it's highest and best use is that some form of communication be maintained with three operational counterparts.
First of all, the recognition that Pods are operating in relatively low energy environments implies that appropriate energy management will maximize system resilience and data transfer consistency. It is fully possible to have Pods send data to geostationary or orbiting satellites, however this would require relatively high energy output from the Pod's solar-powered platform. Argos (see the Further Reading section about Tracking and Monitoring) has a satellite constellation which specializes in similar oceanographic telemetry systems. It would also be pertinent to enlist NASA's SeaWiFS photosynthesis monitoring capabilities and like technology to monitor effects of fertilizing the surface ocean with the 'biscuits' loaded into the Pod. It is also possible to use international fleets of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to transmit data information packets.
Armed forces worldwide are already patrolling many open ocean regions, and it would be of little additional effort for UAVs of collaborating countries to relay messages from Pods as the UAVs fly over the Pods anyway. These information packets can then be relayed to given interested bodies and respective clients. Once telemetry information identifying Pod location is given, passing satellites are invited to take high-resolution photographs of the Pods to give interested parties visual information.
When a given Pod requires maintenance or instrument calibration, the automated request is relayed through UAV's or a satellite constellation to the third operational counterpart: ocean-going service ships. Service ships are equipped with Pod spare parts, crew members who physically tend to the mechanical servicing of the Pod and corresponding components, and scientific personnel who are studying the gyre environment and Pod contents.
It is philosophically important that Pods be as self-sufficient and eco-friendly as possible. In almost all circumstances the only two sources of energy sequestered for Pod operation would be derived from in-situ wave and solar resources, both of which are considered to be environmentally sustainable.
Solar panels are designed to be a standard Pod component such that it fits top of the Pod in a way such that it can be easily replaced in the event of damage or malfunction. In the event that a Pod's solar panel were to malfunction or otherwise suddenly ceased to power the Pod, an emergency onboard battery will relay an SOS message with latitude and longitude coordinates every so often such that passing ships or UAV's could guide service crews to rendezvous with the disabled Pod.
High-Visibility & Emergency Features
Exhaustive efforts and precautions to protect life, limb, property, and the environment are at the forefront of operational management. Examples of such measures involve high-visibility attributes for the Pods such as radar reflectors, light reflectors, audio alerts, as well as LED illumination systems to any alert ship traffic.
The target operational environment is the surface of ocean gyres, and in general these remote regions experience low volumes of ship traffic. However, in the event a ship were to collide with a Pod, the Pod would simply be bumped aside with negligible damage to the ship.
Pods are constantly available for communication with operators, and hence, Pods may receive information of an approaching ship and will be given a command to send an audio and visual signals to alert approaching ships. If there is structural damage, or if as mentioned in the previous paragraph, in the event that a Pod's solar panel were to malfunction an emergency onboard battery will relay an SOS message with latitude and longitude coordinates every so often such that passing ships or UAV's could guide service crews to rendezvous with the disabled Pod.
A. An antenna delivers information from Pod to intended receivers.
B. A platform on the top of the Pod provides a platform to mount instrumentation for atmospheric data acquisition and communication equipment; is a place for birds to have a place to sit and rest; and blocks birds from reaching plastic debris within the Pod.
C. A standardized solar panel provides power to telemetry systems.
D. Ramps on the periphery of upper part of the Pod direct wave motion such that seawater is pushed to a top intake region of the Pod.
E. Telemetry/GPS equipment used for identifying the the location of the Pod and thus the seasonal morphology of the plastic trash in the gyre and the nuances of gyre micro-convergence zones.
F. Large interior Pod chamber with open space available for the 1) storage of plastic debris, and 2) micro-fiber scrubber to sequester hydrophobic chemical pollution from seawater.
G. Mass of micro-fiber scrubber intended to remove chemical pollution from seawater.
H. Hole at the bottom of the Pod for seawater to exit after it has passed through the micro-fiber scrubber.
I. Atmospheric Instrument Packages: various configurations are available and can be customized for a given research project.
J. Water Atomizer: Introduces naturally-occurring cloud condensation nuclei (CCN) such as dimethyl sulfide (DMS) from seawater into the atmosphere to increase the formation of low-level clouds, thus mitigating global warming by reflecting solar radiation back into space. At present, a warming surface ocean is reducing the incidence of low-level clouds. To restore pre-industrial conditions, cloud frequency, size, and distribution needs to be increased so that more sunlight is thus reflected to space, and thus that given ocean surface cools to pre-industrial averages.
K. Derelict Fishing Gear Entanglement Features: Derelict fishing gear, aka ghost nets, namely nets, are large, heavy, and dangerous. Ghost nets entangle and kill whales, sharks, and other animals long after they have been discarded or lost by fishing fleets. The Pod's entanglement features enable the Pod to intercept these ghost nets in the event that the Pod and the ghost nets make contact.
L. Advertisement Surface Area: Sponsors, contributors, and investors have access to Pod surfaces for promotional means. Company logos and names can be printed in various fashions and it is a direct way of representing the sponsors when visual media circulates through news outlets.
M. Time-released nutrients in the form of 'biscuits' that are derived from sterilized and compressed bio-solid derivatives from terrestrial wastewater treatment systems.
N. Time-released porous iron ballast which reduces in mass in anticipation as biomass is accumulated on Pod exterior and pollution is collected in Pod interior.
O. 'Danglia' and bottom weight: A cable loaded with instrumentation is available in a range of lengths. It is attached to the bottom of the Pod and is maintained in vertical orientation by a modest weight attached at the bottom of the cable. The types of oceanographic instruments and the depth intervals at which these instruments are mounted are customizable according to the preferences of sponsors and clients.
P. High-visibility features may include light reflectors, radar reflectors, LED illumination systems, and perhaps audio warning systems.
Images: Zachary Elder