Bob Ballard calls for ocean colonization

Most of this video is familiar history to me, but the last 10 minutes held some surprises for me.  First, the U.S. Government is now funding a new ocean Explorer program and dedicated ship, though it’s still poignant that the NASA budget for outer space exploration is 1600 times the NOAA budget for inner space (ocean) exploration.

Ballard's ocean habitat

Second, he posed a question I’ve never heard an ocean leader pose: “Why are we not looking at moving out onto the sea?”  While showing a schematic of a (hypothetical?) ocean habitat in a giant spar buoy, he goes on:

“Why do we have programs to build a habitation on Mars and we have programs to look at colonizing the moon, but we do not have a program looking at how we colonize our own planet?  And the technology is at hand!”

Perhaps it is time to learn how to live in the ocean right here in the Pacific Northwest?  What could we learn if the Salish Sea had a sea floor observatory?  Would it be valuable for research or education to have a human habitat underwater at  the Friday Harbor Labs or Lime Kiln State Park?  Or can the same value be gained through virtual presence: enhancement of the underwater sensors at Race Rocks, the Seahurst Observatory, and the fledgling Ocean Observing Initiative’s Northwest regional expression, like the Venus line.

A floating airport in the Pacific?

Just learned today of an initiative to expand the San Diego airport by building an international airport in the Southern California Bight.  The proposed semi-submerged moored structure would support two runways (400m long and 300m wide), a terminal, and supporting facilities (including fuel storage in the support pontoons).  A lawyer with experience in maritime legal issues, Adam Englund appears to be the main (and mostly solo?) proponent of the vision.

If Adam and his supporters pull this off, it will be a fascinating experiment in building large structures at sea.  The sustainability implications of the development — its potential impacts and benefits — are fascinating.  Among other things, desalination, mariculture, and wave/current power could be supported on the site.  Adam was even asking about turning kelp into jet fuel.

One might at first be skeptical (I was!), but the testimonials from a naval architects, as well as oceanographic greats like Walter Munk and Fred Speiss are quick to straighten out the initial knee-jerk reactions…  Perhaps the water world is coming sooner than we thought?

Floating landing strips, as proposed here, are not the only offshore structures under consideration. Liquid natural gas, or LNG, terminals are now being designed for locations offshore from Ensenada and the Coronado Islands. Future tankers with 100-foot draft are too deep for existing harbors and will have to be berthed offshore. A rising global sea level will call for reconstructions for many of the world’s harbors. We end this letter with a challenge. In the pioneering spirit of Charles Lindbergh, would it not be wonderful if San Diego would take a leadership role in meeting these global changes?

Good Fe fertilization science, but no blue revolution

This theme section of Marine Ecological Press Series just came across my desk: “Implications of large-scale iron fertilization of the oceans” (2.1Mb).

“Biofuel” is only mentioned in relation to tank/pond-based productivity.
“Biodiesel” is not in any of the documents.

Why is no one talking about harvesting liquid fuels from fertilized patches?  Do I need to start a for-profit company to test such ideas, ore is there a better, “open-source,” way to ignite the blue revolution (or at least intellectual debate about it)?

Inspiration from Obama infomercial

At the end of his 0.5hr piece called “American Stories: American Solutions”, he said some things that are rare to hear from anyone — especially politicians.  It struck me that these should be on the list of things we teach our children, or at least I teach mine.  He said, “I can promise you this:

  • I will always tell you what I think and where I stand;
  • I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face;
  • I will listen to you when we disagree.”

Robin Kodner: Bringing genomics to geobiology

Fate of the organic molecules generated by primary productivity in the surface ocean:

  • carbohydrates, proteins, and nucleic acids (biological pump acts on these)
  • lipids and structural polymers (diagenesis turns these into organic fossils, kerogen, & bitumen (oil)

Organismal part of talk (examples of sterols used as biomarkers)

  1. diversity of sterols and steranes (branches can indicate phylogeny)
  2. C_30 isopropylcholesterol likely associated with sponges

Population level (metagenomics)

  1. C_29 steranes (dominant [relative to C28} in Paleozoic)
  2. One explanation is that C29 may be typical of green algae, while C28 indicate modern phytoplankton (that arose ~200 Mya)
  3. But C29 sterols are made by MANY eukaryotes.  Green algae (Charophyceae) are implicated because they have a good fossil record back into the Paleozoic).
  4. Ternary diagram shows that Prasinophytes (likely modern analog of the Paleozoic green algae) have lower C29/C28 ratio than groups of green algae [Kodner, Geobiology, 2008]
  • Advantage of studying modern orgs is that nucleic acids are available for taxonomic survey, in addition to lipids.
  • Sequence a aggregated sample, compare with sequence database, use search alignment tool (BLAST), and compare with reference sequences to get reference phylogeny

My Qs:

Where does all the sulfur come from in crude oil?

Is it clear that diagenesis does not degrade sterol structure?  If so, what organisms generated the fossil molecules we call fuel?

Mantras and manifestos

After a camping trip with Dave and Russ, just learned about Future in Review and it’s mantra from Mark Anderson.  They have a mantra that should be inspirational to all Americans and members of over-consuming societies on the planet:

“It isn’t about problems; it’s about solutions.

It isn’t about tomorrow; it’s about today.

It isn’t about them; it’s about us.”

So, now I am ready to read and think and talk about solutions.  Why is it so hard to find cogent discourse about them?  Is it all happening at conferences like Future in Review, or within the Board rooms of for-profit companies?

Mark mentions Silicon Valley,  Elon Musk, and Vinod Khosla as actively working to derive solutions.  I’ve read their bios and am excited to learn more about them.  In general, the FiRe participants seem like an interesting group and a potential source of truth and optimism…

For the last few years as I’ve mulled over oceanic solutions to global warming and food shortages, I’ve been yearning for an established mechanism for discussing/deriving the solutions that would automatically ensure the embedded intellectual property would be licensed in an open-source spirit.  Perhaps it’s as simple as filing for a patent from within a non-profit organization.  Is there an extant mechanism for individual inventors and innovators?  What shall be the home of our maricultural manifesto?

Perhaps an answer will come as I delve more deeply into this realm of affluent innovators, largely spawned from and empowered by the start-up technology sector.

Liquid fuels from algae start-ups

Blue Marble Energy of Seattle

AXI of Seattle (Allied Minds investors from MA supporting UW algae researcher Rose Cattolico)

Bionavitas Inc., of Redmond

Inventure Chemical Inc. of Seattle

Sapphire Energy of San Diego, CA

  1. formed in May 2007, Chief Executive Jason Pyle
  2. “green crude” 91 octane gasoline from algae microorganisms
  3. doesn’t absorb water like ethanol and biodiesel, so can be transported in existing pipeline infrastructure
  4. goal is 10k barrel/day from desert ponds
  5. “Almost every other [alternative fuel company] out there is a refiner,” says Robert Nelsen, managing director at ARCH Venture Partners. “They are taking something and refining it. We are producing something.”
  6. “We wanted to find something that you could scale infinitely.”
  7. “We’ve talked to people in the oil industry who’ve said, ‘This is the first thing I’ve seen that can change the game,'” says Nelsen.

I think their web site is (intentionally?) confusing.  Are they producing the equivalent of fossil crude oil from microalgae and then refining it to gasoline (and presumably other products), or are producing gasoline directly from microalgae?  I *think* they’re doing the latter.  But the former is the much better idea — producing crude oil from phytoplankton grown today, rather than digging up primary production from 300 million years ago — for it could go straight into the existing refinery infrastructure and generate all of the current cracked products (and by-products): tar, plastics, diesel, gas, butane, methane, hydrogen; sulfur.

Solazyme of South San Francisco, CA

biodiesel from algae

Amyris Biotechnologies of Emeryville, CA

developing renewable fuels chemically identical to gasoline, jet fuel and diesel. Amyris announced in April that it will develop diesel fuel in Brazil from sugarcane, with a production target date of 2010.


Forbes, May 2008 article

UW News article, August 27, 2008


“To laugh often and much

To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children

To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends

To appreciate beauty

To find the best in others

To leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition

To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived

This is to have succeeded.”

— Ralph Waldo Emerson