The title of this blog is of course a line from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner. It is also part of the title of Ken MidKiff’s 2007 book, Not a Drop to Drink: America’s Water Crisis (and What You Can Do) as well as a theme of the late Matthew R. Simmons’, Founder of the Ocean Energy Institute, 2010 presentation, Twilight In Offshore Oil and Gas Gives Way To Dawning of Ocean Energy, to the Offshore Technology Conference in Houston.
This piece draws heavily on Mr. Simmons 2010 presentation in which he pointed out the Oceans represent 70% of earth’s surface and are swollen with stored solar heat.
One consequence of this heat storage was pointed out in a Nature article published on Monday titled, Recent Walker circulation strengthening and Pacific cooling amplified by Atlantic warming, which found that rapid warming of the Atlantic Ocean, likely caused by global warming, has turbocharged Pacific Equatorial trade winds, causing eastern tropical Pacific cooling, amplified Californian drought, accelerated sea level rise three times faster than the global average in the Western Pacific and has slowed the rise of global average surface temperatures since 2001.
The following July 29, 2014 drought map, published by the United States Drought Monitor, where the darker the color the more severe the drought, shows how devastating the current situation in California is.
According to the EPA, in addition to providing much of the food, crops, livestock, and seafood consumed in the United States agriculture contributes at least $200 billion to the U.S. economy each year and California is the leading agricultural state. Its top five agricultural products are dairy, greenhouse and nursery products, grapes, almonds, and cattle and calves, which generates roughly $37.5 billion annually, more than any other state.
Ocean heat storage is also leading to sea level rise, which threaten the fertile deltas of the world, which are major sources of the world’s food supply.
What is driving the trade winds that are drying out California is surface heat and this is also the driver for tropical storms that cause torrential downpours in other parts of the world as well as sea level rise. As Paul Curto, former NASA chief technologist, pointed out in an article American Energy Policy V — Ocean Thermal Energy Conversions, ocean thermal energy conversion’s impact on reducing surface water temperature over time would be on the order of one degree F per decade at a power level of 2.5 terrawatts.
When using a heat pipe design this heat would be moved to a depth of 1000 meters where the coefficient of expansion of water is half that of the tropical surface thus sea level rise and the threat to fertile river deltas would also be diminished.
As Mr. Simmons pointed out in his presentation, It Is Always Darkest Before Dawn. We are faced with the:
- Twilight of offshore oil and gas.
- Twilight of Middle East oil.
- Twilight of modern energy is fast approaching.
- Water scarcity will get worse soon.
But, just as Twilight leads to darkness, darkness will lead to dawning of new energy source. Tapping the vast amounts of energy contained in our oceans will win this war.
To the best of my knowledge only one energy source cools the ocean’s surface, reduces sea level rise and mitigates hurricanes.
The way that does this best, using OTEC of a heat pipe design, has never been attempted even though indications are such an approach would indefinetly slow the rise of global average surface temperatures. With this design the opportunity also presents itself to produce desalinated water by reverse osmosis using the ambiant pressure of water at a depth of 1000 meters.
When we are out of water and out of food and baking, it will of course be too late to start thinking about how we might have solved the problem.
Mr. Simmons’ vision was to make Maine a leader in energy from offshore wind and ocean forces.
Perhaps it is California that should be taking that lead?