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  • Wingsails and Skysails

    Energy, Oil and Gas, Science, Shipping

    As fuel is getting more expensive the costs of transport are more and more linked to the fuel prices. Shipping companies are trying to save fuel costs by slowing down their existing ships, creating advanced bubbly air cushions between the water and hull of new freighters and doing everything else they can think of to save on the fuel costs.

    Almost thirty years ago we had the worldwide fuel crises. Much the same way as they do now ship owners looked for ways to cut back on fuel costs. One of these was the use of the wind to help power the ships. A Japanese company build ingenious mast and sail systems and equipped some of their vessels, including a bulk carrier and a tanker, with them. Walker Engineering, a UK based company, designed something called the Walker Wingsail. Basically a set of wind catching plates to be fitted on a just about every vessel, non-dependent on size. Some people even proposed a system with rotating masts. Then, just when all these things started gaining momentum, the fuel crises was over and everything was abandoned.

    Today again, soaring fuel prices and an ever increasing need for green business and green shipping. A number of commercial projects are under way. The Danish government was funding the design -and is now building- of a 200 meter long aerofoil-based Windship. There is still the "old" and proven Wingsail concept -see below for a mock up I made from the Greenpeace Esperanza with one of these-, but there are also novel concepts working with kites like Kiteship and the very promising Skysails which was tested in 2006 and will be commercially available in 2008. The Skysails can be retrofitted on every existing commercial ship from Shell supertanker to Greenpeace action-vessel.

    Will the future be one of hybrid ships? Will we have sails again when we sail? I certainly hope so, all the bits and pieces seem to be right this time!

    The Greenpeace vessel MV Esperanza with a Wingsail to save on fuel

  • By Pepijn on 28 01 07 - 18:56 | 18 comments |

  • Impressive photos of bottom trawling damage

    Conservation, Ecology, Fisheries, Marine Reserves, Sustainability

    Damage to the bottom done by demersal (bottom) trawling fishing is hard to visualize as normally it takes place far beneath the surface. Ideally we should drain a sea to get some decent snapshots... Luckily this is actually the case in the Wadden Sea, a shallow coastal sea very rich with various kinds of important sea (spawning and nursing grounds for North Sea fish) and bird (millions of birds are using the mud flats to feed on when migrating) life. Large parts of the sea, spreading along the Dutch, German and Danish coasts, are tidal mudflats. Sea during high-tide and dryish land during low-tide.

    For decades there have been bottom trawling and dredging activities on the Dutch part of the Wadden Sea. As of July 1, 2004 mechanical cockle fisheries have been banned from the area in order to save the cockles (and the rich bottom) for the millions of birds. Some fisheries on mussels and shrimp are still taking place in the area though.

    As I've been trying to find good low-tide imagery showing the marks / scarves for some time now I was happy to spot some useful areas on Google maps. I borrowed the data and created two large (~2000x1200pixels) composite images from the satellite photos. They are quite impressive, even if I say so myself. Download them via: bottom trawling damage image 1 and bottom trawling damage image 2 (the images are compressed to keep the file size down, mail me if you need high resolution ones) .

    bottom trawling damage
    Marks caused by bottom trawling in the Dutch Wadden Sea. (cut-out from this)

    bottom trawling damage
    And some more bottom trawl marks or scarves, a bit older. (cut-out from this)

  • By Pepijn on 20 01 07 - 16:32 | eleven comments |

  • A Dutch winter storm

    Climate, Weird and Funny

    Yesterday we had our first decent winter storm of the year. Or actually the first decent storm in about five years. Apparently we will get to see these powerful storms more often in the next decades due to climate change.

    I went to the Afsluitdijk (a dam), Kornwerderzand and the IJsselmeer coast near Makkum and made some photos (read the full article to see the photos) as well as a short film (hosted on Google video).

    Some vessels in the harbour next to the Kornwerderzand locks
    (read the full article)

  • By Pepijn on 19 01 07 - 13:01 | six comments |

  • Tuvalu, story of a doomed country

    Climate, Conservation, Law and Legislation, Tourism, Weird and Funny

    Mankind already got rid of the Stellar Seacow, the Mamo and the Dodo, the Red Gazelle, all Moa species and the Irma Wallaby. Bigeye tuna and the Polar beers are still work in progress, we're getting there though. We as mankind are highly skilled and very efficient players of the game of extinction. Now a new level has been added to that game. Instead of individual species we're now targeting islands. An entire country even.

    Fualopa island, capital of Tuvalu

    Meet Tuvalu. A tropical paradise in the central Pacific. The four islands and five atolls making up the country provide a home for the ~11.600 Tuvaluans. After Vatican city the smallest independent entity in the world. While the highest point in the nation is five meters most of the country is less than a meter above sea level. Tuvalu will certainly cease to exist before the year 2100 and it might not even be there in 2050. Tuvalu is doomed to be the first country to disappear due to sea level rise.

    Tuvalu and the Tuvaluans aren't perfect. Only in 1998 the UN labelled Tuvalu as the world's third most poor country. When the pot of gold arrived -more on that later- the Tuvaluans started building roads holding the water on their already eroding shores, they build hotels on their fields and they bought cars to drive in circles on the new roads on the tiny islands. Someone even build a casino on an old burial ground. The casino owner moved his ancestors to a smaller grave in order to gain some space... And all on a sinking ship. Agriculture has long been given up as the valuable soils are gone and much of the fresh water lenses on the islands have been destroyed. This is partly due to damage caused during the US occupation of the islands in the second world war. The only natural resource Tuvalu has left is its fish. It is selling its fishing rights for petty money (about 10 million dollar a year) to the U.S., Japan, Korea and Taiwan. It also gets some investments -a desalination plant- from Japan in exchange for pro-whaling votes in the International Whaling Commission.

    Funafuti. Some tourists are visiting the main island of the nation advertised as "Visit it while it's still there". Here the sea has risen 5.7mm for every year during the past thirteen years, around 7 to 8cm. Some islands in the region have it even worse with 14mm/year in Tonga and 43mm/year in Micronesia. But they don't average 90cm elevation above sea level. Already the storm surges caused by the ever more often occurring cyclones flood the islands a couple of times a year. When the water starts coming up trough the porous coral substrate people sit in their houses and hope for the best. The nearest high point is several thousand kilometres away and is in a different country.

    The pot of gold arrived when Tuvalu had the .tv internet extension assigned to it. After some fiddling they decided to lease it to an American company. It has now already brought them about 50 million dollar of much needed income. Being aware of their problems 1.5 million was spend on becoming a member of the UN and creating awareness on political level. Spoken was of lawsuits against nations emitting the bulk of the greenhouse gasses -Tuvalu is Co2 neutral-. Unfortunately not much was gained by all this, the prime minister was fired and the law suits never commenced.

    It is a fact that the country will be gone pretty soon. 50cm of rise is enough to make the islands inhabitable and 100cm is enough to erase them. Global warming and the associated melting of ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica might cause this to happen ever sooner. The little island of Tepuka might only have 20 years left. Its thousand inhabitants will go to Australia and will be the first real international climate change refugees in the world. They won't be the last though.

    With the entire country to disappear beneath the rising water the .tv domain will become that of a virtual country. A domain people now already associate with television instead of a tiny pacific island nation. Maybe the domain should also be drowned and its websites moved to the extensions of other countries as to become virtual climate change refugees.

  • By Pepijn on 17 01 07 - 02:12 | nine comments |

  • A fishyfull design

    Biology, Sitenews, Weird and Funny

    What better way to start a new year as with a new design (don't bother answering, it's a rhetoric question). I aimed to remove the clutter caused by using all 328 primary colours and seven different fonts. Also the font size of posts and comments has been made a bit smaller. I hope the site has become a bit more easy on the eyes. But be sure to let me know if you don't agree! The roadmap still has the old colour scheme as it provides good readability for tables.

    The fish drawing in the header -Ostracion cornutus, I believe that means horn-shaped boxfish, might have been renamed to Lactoria cornuta or Long-horned Cowfish though- is taken from Ernst Haeckels beautiful book Kunstformen der Natur. It's generally a friendly fish if you threat it with respect. Once you start to violate its well-being it will come up with good defences as it is sticky and poisonous.

    Close-up from plate eight of Kunstformen der Natur.

  • By Pepijn on 14 01 07 - 22:53 | twelve comments | - About overfishing.