Monday, May 03, 2010

Empirical Studies

Patrick threw himself into oil spill studies with a vengeance.

Between well capping and surface skimming is the mile of intervening ocean where oil plumes.

With only 10% of water's density, it forms a vertical flow that might be partially dammed by large, neutrally buoyant, inverted funnels. He calls them "jellyfish".

Patrick's quick survey of the existing literature, including various patents and proposals, showed that designs for under-sea collection infrastructure had never been implemented.

Relatively few had thought in terms of fielding ad hoc under-ocean oil snarfing devices. Their pumps would actuate in short bursts, in response a concentration of oil detected in their upper reaches. Oil might go into bags for pulling to shore, if not directly into ship tanks.

Patrick did some quick hydrological experiments. Then, as one of the few people who knows about Flextegrity, he wondered if Sam's way of tethering compressive members together could provide a quick skeleton for holding some membrane or skin in a collective position.

The Flextegrity web site shows breakwater and sea-bottom artificial reef applications, but neutral buoyancy applications have not been a feature. Patrick found a way to submit his idea on-line.

Like any good engineer, he's casting about for solutions, leveraging whatever knowledge base is available. BP no doubt has a vast army of such engineers studying the problem from all angles.

Patrick's proposal seems pretty radical, but radical thinking, even radical mathematics, is what we need more of these days.

Patrick joined us for morning coffee, just before my Python class in the piano room.

From my email to Sam later that same afternoon (fixing one typo):
I think a "prose sketch" of the rig, an inverted half octahedron, maybe 5-6 frequency with pretty gigantic icosahedra (ala coral reef), would be close to my interpretation of Patrick's concept: a giant inverted funnel designed to keep some sort of canvas or skin serving as a passive catcher's mitt. When an actuator measuring oil density gets triggered, because of collected oil in the top reaches of the cup, the pump sends it up the hose, as a burst, then shuts off, waits to be triggered again. He referred to them as "jelly fish".
Sam, Patrick, Glenn and I met at a neighborhood meeting place to further discuss the proposal. In kicking these ideas around, they morphed somewhat. The shape isn't that important, so long as it's a concave capturing device. We talked a lot about buoyancy control.

Sam would be happy to hit the accelerator on all this. We'd need to work with his engineers to move quickly.

Glenn's design wouldn't require Flexegrity at all. Stiffened dacron sails and PVC might provide the concave jellyfish. Sam actually thought this design made a lot of sense, given his knowledge of sailing and matters maritime. Sam: "Cheap, simple, locally available, ready to go... See, I'm prepared to subvert my own belief structure."

We have yet to see even the beginning of the end of this scenario. The ecological impact of our legacy radioactive materials is likewise measured in geological time.

We came up with the following abstract. Patrick got a call back from Senator Wyden's office while we worked on our draft. Patrick wrote most of this:
We propose to deploy an array of sub-surface oil concentration/collection devices to interdict the oil plume between its source and the surface. The elements of our system include individual, submerged, inverted funnels that will consolidate the oil and deliver it, on demand, to surface-based tender vessels. These elements work independently but can be deployed as a coordinated, but redundent, network. Each element consists of a concave membrane for oil collection, a pump, and a demand-based activation mechanism. Each element is deployable using small watercraft such as shrimp boats, and each can be independently weighted/buoyed as requred to ensure collection occurs at an optimal depth. Elements can be procured and assembled using locally-available or off-the-shelf materials.
Follow-up: more polish applied later, plus we presented it in assembly at the Pauling Campus the following Wednesday morning. The name "Medusa Array" was proposed informally.