Kinkajou : Now Erasmus, you really have some strong thoughts about colonising the oceans. Human beings don’t live in the water. In fact there’s not a single thing that grows on the surface of most seas or oceans. Everything is under the surface. Now , that basic observation tells me that is spite of pretty pictures of wide open blue water, the ocean is really a hostile and dangerous environment for surface dwellers.
Erasmus :You’re right Kinkajou. But remember, we’re not looking at now, but where our technology can take us in centuries to come.
Kinkajou : Why bother?
Erasmus : The basic observation is that the earth is about two thirds water and one third land. There are about seven billion people living on the land. And almost none of them living in the ocean. As the earth’s population increases, there could easily be 14-21 billion of us living on the planet in 50-100 years from now. The only place left to go is the ocean . I think the population in fact could reach70 Billion within a couple of centuries. And sustainable.
Erasmus :The basic problem with the ocean is indeed that it is a hostile environment. When there are storms I’ve heard that there can be 20 metre waves commonly out there.
These waves can crest and break and carry a lot of energy, a lot of dangerous energy that can deprive a surface creature of oxygen if they were dependent on staying on the surface to breathe. Note that there are dolphins out there. They come to the surface to breathe, but they can go back down under the surface.
So you can live on the ocean if you don’t have to be tied to the surface.
Kinkajou : So you reckon we all should live in submarines?
Erasmus :Well, yes and no. I think that anything that lives on the ocean has to have the capacity to escape big waves and big storms, which as far as I can see are real killers. We’ve seen lone round the world yachtsman overturn with big waves all the time, here in Australia.
However, it can be quite pleasant and stable on the ocean surface, just not all the time. To survive on the ocean, you need to be able to escape the dangerous conditions that can occur in storms.
Current proposals for ocean colonisation rely on boats outrunning storms. This may work for big storms but what about microbursts. I remember once being caught a few hundred metres offshore with one metre waves appearing.
The storm was literally only about one kilometre across. Essentially no one was affected except me. In short, you can't rely on outrunning all storms because there will be lots of small pockets forming. We don't pay much attention to this sort of weather now, because its irrelevant to land dwellers.
Kinkajou : So what’s the answer?
Erasmus :Well I think that if people live on surface craft that have a capacity to submerge down to a maximum of 50 metres, a twenty metre surface wave is probably not a problem. Yes a submarine has the capacity to escape from big surface storms, but there are some real problems with this concept.Future Submarine
Kinkajou : Such as?
Erasmus :Well, cost is the big one. The average submarine costs more than the average car, boat or house to build. A house can last up to 100 years with some care, yet I know some of my friends who work in the Volunteer coastguard, who see their boats replaced each few years.
The boats cop such a pounding in the surf going over the big waves that they suffer from resin or metal fatigue and are only good for scrap within a few years. Any ocean colonists can’t afford to replace their boat each few years, so any solution to colonising the oceans must be cost effective and sustainable.
Kinkajou : Sounds like so far this idea is not going to fly. Give us the answer!
Erasmus :Well, I think I have a solution, though it’s a bit odd. The answer is to build ocean going but submersible living quarters using biotechnology. In specific, there a few plants that flourish well exposed to oceanic water.
One of the best well known of these is the Mangrove. If we could grow Mangroves and shape these into boats, we might have adaptable and useful long term living quarters at reasonable cost levels.. Each boat is effectively a floating tree.
Erasmus : There are a few problems with this concept. Namely:
- We need to have a lot more skill in terms of genetics and bioengineering of shapes to grow treeships or tree platforms that people can live on.
- These tree platforms would need to be substantially larger than a Mangrove tree to provide sufficient usable habitat for colonists
- We would need to develop access to the plants nutrient conductive system and develop a range of chemicals that can be fed into the tree platform to protect the wood from attack by parasites. Oxygenation while submerged is likely to be another issue.
- Technical issues in the ability to submerge and emerge from the deeps safely are paramount. Most submarines have multiple and redundant systems to enable them to go underwater and come back up again. This type of technology is expensive to have and to maintain. If the system fails, boats go to the bottom of the ocean. Whole families will die.
- Corrosion prevention in the oceanic environment is critical to ship integrity. Parts that rust or corrode may not be able to be replaced, especially if our colonists are nomadic subsistence sea herders.
- Social engineering issues are important. It is unwise for each tree platform to support only a single family. There is too much chance that in a closed system of this size, critical skills may be lacking or through illness or injury become lacking. It makes far more sense to have 4-8 families per platform. Groups of platforms could form floating villages. If one person on a boat has a high paying job, as an e-commerce worker, to what extent does this need to be shared for the good of the treeship?
- There needs to be a business model with economic activities that can be carried out by our colonists, otherwise our colonists become nomadic subsistence farmers with no income and little access to technology birthed by land bound nations. Growing food, extracting minerals, processing sea food, work in telecommunications (the ultimate E workers) are probably insufficient to make a viable business model.
- “Nation” issues like language, legal structure, ownership of home territories may conflict with existing land based countries. Who should own an ocean? Those who live in it or those who live next to it.
Erasmus :There are a few big credits for a treeship concept:Trees as they age get stronger and bigger. These are very powerful positive for boats. Artificially built boats have a limited lifespan. As they age they corrode, lose strength and then fail and sink. A treeship or treeplatform would do exactly the opposite. They are more likely to self-repair and maintain structural integrity than an artificial construct: one of the basic advantages of a life form over a mechanism. Lifeforms adapt and repair.
Constructs need to be repaired. Microscopic damage to a life form can be repaired a microscopic level. Microscopic damage will only need to be addressed when enough damage develops so it becomes macroscopic enough to become a critical issue.The oceans have a lot of space and could support a lot of colonists.
Treeship Ocean Going
Access to this greater area of the planet gives humanity a much greater capacity to extract value from the planet in the sustenance of human life, while reducing the impact of the human population on the planet.
For example, look at our current population. Imaging a world with 2.5 billion people on the land and 4.5 billion people on the sea. Each land based city would be a third the size. The world would almost begin to feel like an empty space.
Mangrove Sign Brisbane
Erasmus :There is a long road to go before even the most basic steps can be taken towards this vision of the future.
Kinkajou : True, but it may be an incredible achievement if it could come true.
Kinkajou : So paint me a picture of how you might see it working.
Erasmus :I see a boat sort of like a catamaran or a trimaran, with living areas in each of the hulls. The platform linking the hull at water level would support the Mangrove aerial roots that allow the plant to breathe. A platform built above this gives our colonists horizontal work space. Below the treeplatform, could be an enclosure for aquaculture.
The ocean is a relative desert for many fish species. The flourishing of these floating platforms actually creates bio niches or habitat for a number of species, selectable by humans for commercial value.
The families would communally share some tasks: e.g. cooking, fuel or energy production, maintenance, but there is scope in the system for individuals to chase their own futures.
Tree platforms could coalesce in floating cities and disperse once trade became complete. In the event of a storm, boats could disperse to 20m under the ocean surface, resurfacing once the storm had passed and conditions had stabilised.
Kinkajou : There could indeed be life!
Kinkajou : The Reality of Ocean Colonization
Erasmus :Ocean colonization is the theory and practice of permanent of permanent human settlement of the oceans. Such settlements have been proposed to either float on the surface of the water, or be secured to the ocean floor or to exist in an intermediate position such as in a submersible such as a submarine. The term sea steading has been used to describe this development. This is one of a number of illustrations that accompanied the article. This is a trimaran community support ship, very stable, providing lots of workspace and hauling capacity, constructed out of low cost salvage hulls.
One obvious problem with colonising oceans is that many of the materials we use to build within the ocean environment are substantially more expensive than building materials used on land. Common materials include resin, carbon composites, glass fibres and metal alloys.
All these materials must be structurally close to perfect as the consequences of a structural failure in the ocean environment are likely to be calamitous. These building materials are subject to fatigue and will need to often be replaced or repaired, most likely at great expense.
While we have before proposed by constructs as living platforms, it is possible that other building materials may have some application within the ocean environment. Concrete adapted to the ocean environment may well be a very useful building material. The issues developing here is that there needs to be significant technological adaptation and an acceptance of sea steading as a life path.
Currently we live on land. We think about living on the land. Our processes are adapted to living on land or on mobile platforms of land. We are really not thought about the issues of living is on the ocean and of solving the technological problems and dangers of this environment.Erasmus :Obvious problems of living in the ocean include:
- Being the most physically violent weather environment on the planet
Woman at Hostile Seaside
- Being the most corrosive environment on the planet
- Living in close proximity to predators such as sharks for which human beings are not adapted to dealing with on an even footing.
- Living with a hostile environment for which humans are not adapted. Death by drowning or injury from rapid vertical pressure change would be constant accompaniments to sea- steading.
- Cost is a major factor
- The requirement for specialised knowledge and skills, currently not developed for this environment.
- Political and legal vulnerabilities. (The police just don’t drop by). It is probable that initially sea-steaders would develop under the aegis of existing nations. In the development of a nation, major factors are wealth / liquid capital in terms of resources, information, or trained workers.
- The problem of providing social infrastructure such as doctors, dentists, pharmacists, hairdressers, clothing retailers, minor goods retailers (there is no Kmart or Wal-Mart out in the ocean)
Hostile Ocean Storm
Erasmus :The big problem with this relative freedom approach to ocean colonization is that it may not make much sense to try to establish a safe floating ocean dwelling, which is likely to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and still be quite spartan, when that same money spent in Brisbane or the Gold Coast Hinterland could build a fairly substantial estate -- an estate with no worries about drowning, or sharks, or storms, or corrosion. In fact , on land your most real and dangerous adversary would be the tax man.
Kinkajou : Can the Dream be Realized?
Erasmus :If ocean colonization is such a good idea, why aren't the rich industrialists already doing it? They've got the giant ships, the subs, the drilling platforms, floating factory complexes, the whole works -- why aren't they colonizing already?
Underwater Cities Perth
Erasmus :Clearly, the answer is that there's not enough profit in it. The technology for cost reduction also does not exist.
Note that I am saying that it is unlikely that there is enough money to be made to justify ocean colonization. What this means is that there are few existing industrial resource- gathering or manufacturing processes that can be profitably carried out.
An ocean colony is unlikely to compete effectively by mining manganese or oil, or harvesting fish, because the existing industrial base, established as it is in landside ports, can carry out the whole process of harvesting, processing, and bringing the product to market at a lower infrastructure and capital cost than that required to build an equivalently productive ocean colony.In almost all cases, ocean living technology is going to be significantly more expensive per square metre of dry living-and-work-space than even the most extravagant of land-based buildings, homes, and factories.
None of these economic potentials, with the exception of tourism, can be quickly and
easily implemented. All of them will require a considerable investment in equipment,
trained specialists, infrastructural support, and marketing.
A Sea Gypsy Village
Kinkajou : so why bother going down this road?
Erasmus :I think one of the most basic and important corollary is of the development of sea steads or tree ships are that much of the technology and systems are very relevant to spaceship maintenance. If we are going to succeed to live in space, we must be able to succeed and live an equally hostile environment on this planet. Space, like the ocean is very very unforgiving.
Kinkajou : What about mobility? Is this an advantage? What are some of the solutions people have suggested to allow sea steading to develop?
Erasmus :the first issue is being able to be mobile. If you are going to colonise the ocean you have to be able to move around the ocean to avoid storms, meet other people, trade, and run industries. The family unit may be quite inadequate for commercial or industrial needs, so people need to get together.
Ocean vessels can most efficiently and cheaply move around using sails. I suggested configuration is a parallel or biplane rig for sales. Two smaller diameter masts are cheaper and easier to handle than one giant mast as may be used in a sloop rig.
The sails can be rotated for any sailing angles and if positioned properly should not heel the vessel over,hence minimising seasickness issues as the only motion will be for after with less lateral movement.
The proposals we have had provide three solutions to avoiding storm damage.
- Firstly the vessel can attempt to outrun many storms.
- Secondly the vessel may submerge to weather out a storm. (If you’re using mangroves as tree ships, they may not take kindly to prolonged inundation /being submerged for prolonged periods of time.
The technology required to submerge a boat safely for a period time, is in order of magnitude greater than just building a boat that floats.
- Lastly, if the boats are built tough enough, maybe they can just ride out the storm.
The speed considerations are stepped hull allows high speed. However a traditional deep V hull is more likely to give stability and predictability with changing course affecting the boat handling.It is unlikely that a tree ship, being an ungainly accumulation of floating living space may achieve speeds sufficient to require a stepped hull. However aerodynamic, mobility, stability and friction issues will be important no matter what type of vessel and ocean columnist may have. 2 kph is always twice as fast as 1 kph.
The world is becoming a crowded place.
The next frontier : the Oceans.
Kinkajou : Construction. So what about construction methods?
Erasmus :Let's talk about some of the construction issues facing us when we build ocean going craft.
- Ferro-cement or a composite Material including other resins, fibres, polymer modified cements or plasticisers may well be the long-term building material of choice. In a hostile environment such as the ocean, concrete cancer developing in steel reinforcing beams, is likely to be an extremely dangerous development.
Steel is normally used as a reinforcer so there is a role here for developing either other metal alloys or other fibres to reinforce the cement construction materials. Strangely, Ferro cement is slightly less weighty than steel when lengths over 10 m are considered.
- The need for out of water curing and ability to tolerate salt within the concrete is critical if construction is to occur in a high salinity environment. I remember seeing pictures of mansions built on islands using seawater instead of freshwater for mixing the concrete.
Within a few years the buildings were beginning to deteriorate and fall apart. If you can build your hulls or grow your hulls in the water, colonising the ocean is a much more realistic proposition.
- Building materials need to be able to tolerate frequent low intensity impacts, as well as heavier more serious impacts. Most boats would be expected at some time to bump into other boats or into fixed facilities.
- Hull construction would require the ability to integrate installation, to improve the quality of living environment, and to reduce running costs.
Kinkajou : Construction styles. So should you have single or multi hull constructions?
Erasmus :I think oceangoing vessels need to be at least as stable as existing 15 m catamarans. Generally this style of vessel probably gives a relatively comfortable living and working environment. At least in the early stages vessels need to be designed to use existing land-based slips and to be able to easily dock into existing land-based facilities.The hulls of oceangoing vessels would probably need to be tolerant of submersion, and able to provide a safe habitat even if capsized or if leaking.
People at the Sea Side
Kinkajou : How do you see people using these ocean vessels?
Erasmus :Land-based accommodation focuses on the family unit. However, I feel that the combination of parents and children is simply too limited a structure to provide expertise when needed in critical or difficult situations for every vessel, has too little manpower to deal with for example manning a watch roster, and would not allow sufficient manpower for industrial or commercial activities.
I think you really need a vessel which can support 10 to 20 adults along with their respective families as a minimum social unit for ocean colony vessels. You also do need to think about what happens at people get sick or get old. The family unit is just too small a construct to meet the varied and multiple needs of running an oceangoing vessel.
Kinkajou : so how do you see these vessels being powered?
Erasmus :there are many existing energy producing systems which are quite suitable for oceangoing vessels. However a number of issues need to be reconsidered. Is 240 V AC really safe in a wet ocean environment? Perhaps appliances need to be designed on 12 to 24 V AC.
Energy can be obtained directly then from wind power or photovoltaic cells. It may even be possible to harvest biomaterials suitable for conversion to bio-fuel or food.
Appliances are essential in the modern environment. An oceangoing vessel will require many standard appliances such as may exist in the average home including refrigerators, washing machines, cooking facilities, cold storage facilities, and cleaning appliances.
They must also provide facilities unique to oceangoing vessels such as navigation equipment, trawler booms, buoyancy and pump facilities as well as communications equipment.
When you start considering how many systems are required to operate oceangoing vessel, it becomes obvious why cost needs to be shared among a number of family units and why large pool expertise needs to be available to operate and maintain a range of support equipment.
Kinkajou : So what do you think Goo?
Goo : It Is interesting to again see biological solutions being showcased. Growing your ships not building them may in the long-term be much more cost-effective and much more tolerant of defects and injuries affecting ship operation.
I think one key issue I see is methods of reducing and distributing costs of building and maintaining and operating oceangoing vessels.
New social structures may be necessary. The nuclear family may well need to blend into a social structure of a number of families bonding together to operate a vessel.
Much of our technology is still land environment based. Many appliances, much equipment will not long-term tolerate a hostile environment imposed by the high salinity and moisture inherent in the ocean environment.
Mangrove Roots Brisbane
Lastly increasing population may well drive this development, especially of the population grows to the 70 billion mark over the next few centuries.Lots of the things we need, we do already but we need to do them in a much more robust and sustainable model or structure.
Mangroves at the Sea side