Thursday, 8 January 2009

The Lost Continent of Mu

I know its wrong, but I love the idea of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Its this feature of the North Pacific Gyre where plastic waste and debris accumulates. All the plastic waste ejected into the ocean from Asia and North America, floating about on the ocean's currents, it all ends up bobbing about in the neuston of the gyre.

Like some great automatic refuse collection system, but without the garbage trucks. Sure its not free refuse collection cos the plastic ends up killing millions of sea creatures, but in terms of human involvement, its a passive system.

Apparently the area which the plastic waste collects in is about the size of Texas, its essentially a lost continent. But its not some solid piece of land, no one can walk on it, but its big and its got mass. Plastic barrels, cargo containers, plastic ducks, monofilament fishing line, all bobbing about.

And its there for the harvesting.

I've got this idea, well, a great stream of ideas.

Did you ever read that Treehugger article about some process to turn plastic into oil? Could they no just put one of those plants on an 'oil rig' in the middle of the gyre and let the plastic come to it. The operation could be self-sustaining, and just churn out crude oil.

It might take a load of investment to get off the ground, but hey, whilst we're on the way, lets have some fun and play some games.

Remember that Onion story about dolphins developing opposable thumbs?

What we need for the North Pacific Gyre is some thumb dolphins. No no, not live mammal dolphins, but something cooked up before the folk who make things on Robot Wars. I want a radio-controlled boaty thing with a robot arm or two on it, with opposable thumbs.

Not just radio controlled, but ethernet controlled. Controlled remotely over the world wide web, so some geek in his bedroom thousands of miles away can be controlling a wee thumb dolphin as it cruises about the gyre looking for large lumps of plastic, then dragging them to other large bits of plastic and sticking them together.

The world already has thousands of folk playing World of Warcraft, running about fantasy worlds, solving quests. This would be the same thing, but not virtual, just remotely controlled.

Now the punter in his bedroom has got to be able to see what he's doing, so when he drives his boat abou the can see where he's going and when he manipulates his robot arms he can see what he's grabbing hold of. So your thumb dolphin needs two webcam eyes, for stereoscopic vision, and also cos we're playing water world of warcraft, the player could do with a third person camera angle, so how about a camera on a stick coming out of the back of the thumb dolphin. Kind of like Mark Owens' Avatar Machine. Actually, a few scouter boats with their own cameras on really long sticks would be neat, to give a wider view of the area your thumb dolphins are working on, that would be cool, and if they also house solar panels and recharging docks for the dolphins.

At fist I was thinking that these thumb dolphins could tie the plastic bits that the find together using nylon string, but thats gonna be really difficult with their little robot hands. So, maybe using epoxy glue that might be easier, or if its sunny, a big old magnifying glass to weld bits of plastic together.

Actually, sack that, why not all three, give the gaming punters a choice. Have different professions of thumb dolphins, some have glue, some have magnifying glasses, some have better developed robot arms for tying knots.

How about stepping up a level and have different races of thumb dolphins, with more specialisation.
  • Tugs - clunky tug boats for locating and pulling together large bits of plastic.
  • Winders - seek out the monofilament wire and wind it onto reels to be used by...
  • Tyers - who tie things together
  • Scrabblers - who climb over larger pieces
  • Lobbers - who chuck smaller bits of plastic onto larger bits.
What we're trying to do here is build up a larger and larger single mass of plastic, a floating island, which has just enough structural integrity to hold its own bobbing about in the middle of the ocean. We want one of these, built by remote control.

Sure there needs to be some kind of central plan rather than just a load of WoW players dicking around. So you have Quests for the players things like:-
  • "accumulate 5Kg of mass"
  • "secure the east side of the island"
  • "find 100m of filament!
  • "retrieve player 23 who's run out of power"

So at the moment its all wave and solar powered, maybe the first boat on site will have to be a power station.

I ought to be thinking about structural integrity, cos those waves and storms are going to tear this thing apart. Its a big hole in my thinking, I like to think that the landmass becomes so big that no storm will destroy it. Sure it bobs up and down with waves, and sure a storm will rip bits off it, but the army of thumb dolphins can stitch it back together. And if a hurricane tears the island in half, they can stitch that back together too.

I know you're just wondering about the effect of all this on the local wild life, but don't worry, the North Pacific Gyre is mostly a dead zone, cos of all that plastic. This also makes it an excellent candidate for ocean seeding. This is the process whereby iron filings or iron sulphate are dumped in an ocean, encouraging algae blooms, which then draw CO2 out of the atmosphere, then die off and sink in the ocean. It either sinks to the bottom where the CO2 is sequestrated or is eaten up by fishies encourage more fish-life in the area.

Hmph, these fish are going to be inedible cos of the plastic and will lead relatively short and unsatisfying lives.

Ooh, you know that thing with mercury poisoning, where it accumulates in plants or animals until it kills the animal, then some other larger animal like a human or a panda eats the dead animal and absorbs the mercury and then accumulates it until they too die. But ultimately you get a corpse with a concentration of mercury in it, rather than diluted mercury spread all over the shop. Does the same thing happen with plastic and aquatic life? Our thumb dolphins collect all the large bits of plastic and we leave it to the food chain, fish and birds to accumulate all the smaller bits until they die and we can sling them on our new plasticy compost heaps.

So five years down the line, after our army if internet WoW thumb dolphin pilots have created our lost continent of plastic, we're going to want folk to live there, subsidence crofters perhaps. But more likely the sort of human life you get developing on third world rubbish tips, forraging for stuff to sell. Its not much of a life, but its what we can expect at first, loading up ships with whatever they've salvaged from the gyre, living under the shadow of our plastic to crude oil rig that's arrived.

Ooh, back to that ocean seeding operation, remember before the Beijing Olympics there was all that problem with algae clogging up the Qingdao sailing area, can we encourage that to happen, and then use all the algae as fertilizer and compost for farm land on our island. Sure it'll stink for a a few years, but it seems like a quick way to build up organic landmass, so we can start farming operations.

I see grain being grown, and potatoes, some kind of genetically engineered salt-resistant variety, and chickens running about pecking at it.

How much area of solar panels do we need to run a desalination plant? We're going to have acres of inorganic land where no plants will grow for a while and it'll be perfect for solar panels I reckon.

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