Marine renewable energy

By now it’d be hard to find someone who hasn’t at least heard of global warming: the Earth’s atmosphere is trapping more and more heat from the Sun, likely due to the gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2) that society has been putting out while burning fossil fuels such as coal and oil.

Love it or hate it, this heating up of the world’s climate will have some serious consequences for the environment and ourselves. So the race is on to develop alternative, renewable energy sources.

One of those is capturing “marine renewable” energy from waves and tides out in the ocean. Waves and tides hold a lot of power that could be harvested sustainably without burning any fossil fuels by building floating wavefarms in areas with large waves, or tidal farms in places with strong tidal currents – a bit like a windfarm at sea, but mostly under water.

Check out this link for some examples: http://www.emec.org.uk/

Unfortunately the sea isn’t empty – lots of animals such as whales, dolphins and porpoises use the same areas that people now want to build these things in. So now it becomes very important to figure out where these animals go, how many of them use these particular areas, what they use those areas for, whether they might be at risk from these developments, and if so, how.

Studying whales at sea sounds easy – after all, whales are huge, right? That’s true, but the oceans are very large, whales don’t always lounge about at the surface where we can see them, and the weather doesn’t always help. Unfortunately tropical seas have relatively little energy to offer, so most of the work goes on in cold waters like those off Scotland, where storms are frequent

More information can be found in this BBC News article: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-18100191.

Fortunately, whales, dolphins and porpoises are very vocal creatures and their calls can be picked up using underwater microphones, or hydrophones. By scattering hydrophones across a site, such as a channel between islands where the tides run really fast, the animals’ travels can be studied by recording their sounds. That way, we can decide where are good places to build these marine renewable energy generators without disturbing the animals.

Some examples of marine mammal underwater vocalisations can be found here: http://cetus.ucsd.edu/voicesinthesea_org/index.html.

If you think that this is an area that you would like to work in, you could be:

  • A marine biologist – studying animals and the world in which they live
  • A zoologist – looking at conserving endangered habitats and species
  • A data analyst-statistician – collecting numerical information and presenting your results to the team
  • A photographer – creating still photographs of the animals and/or their habitats that are under threat
  • A research scientist – planning and carrying out experiments to increase scientific knowledge in the area of wildlife conservation or renewable energy sources
  • An ecologist – studying the relationship between animals and their environment
  • A public relations officer – informing the public and keeping them updated about the work of your organisation
  • A lecturer – developing new courses and teaching materials to inform students on related courses
  • A laboratory technician – supporting scientists in their work and helping to carry out tests, research and investigations
  • An energy engineer – working on producing energy from renewable sources