Kayley Thacker considers the thrilling untapped potential the aquatic world holds for mitigating society's most critical concerns.
Is the next step in humanity’s progression really among the stars? The filthy rich run themselves ragged in the new age space race, leaving Joe Bloggs to salvage the rubble of the climate disaster. But perhaps he won’t have to search for too long. The answer may lie at our shores: does the ocean contain science’s most sought-after answers?
The climate crisis is today’s most pressing issue. How, if at all, can we save our planet? Its struggle to survive centres around the body that covers more than 70% of it. Increased sea surface temperatures, melting ice caps, and the resulting rising sea levels are clear indicators of a worsening climate.
According to the World Meteorological Organisation, sea levels increase by over 3mm a year on average. We can monitor these by using electromagnetic waves emitted from satellites and record data from temperature sensors on in situ buoys. To mitigate this disaster, the ocean’s role as Earth’s largest carbon sink is vital. We can maintain, protect, and enhance this carbon reservoir by encouraging coastal vegetation growth in salt marshes and sea grass beds, and increasing seawater alkalinity to shift the equilibrium of carbon dioxide-philic compounds in favour of higher carbon dioxide uptake.
The marine world may also be integral to sustainable energy generation. Microalgae are a promising frontier in the development of green biofuels. With their high carbon content and resistance to the changing seasons, they can be grown in vast quantities for use as feedstock.
For bioethanol production, microalgae could be an especially sustainable source, if a high yield process (converting its polymeric sugars to fermentable monomers) is developed.
Inexhaustible, reliable, and widely available, waves are set to be a significant sector of renewable energy. Recent developments in triboelectric nanogenerators (TENGs) show notable promise over traditional wave energy generators. wave energy generators. They can be highly efficient and far more lightweight.
However, to be viable at an industrial level, further research is required on durable materials and stable networks for energy transmission and commercial distribution. Alongside offshore wind turbines, tidal power plants, and other forms of marine generators, this biome has remarkable faculties for the future of sustainable energy production and the future of modern life.
Whilst the potential of the ocean can be scaled up to serve greater societal needs, it can also impact the quality of everyday life. The marine world and its fascinatingly complex ecosystem is a playground of discoveries and intrigue for pharmaceutical researchers. Already, a plethora of unique bioactive compounds have been found and tested, yet more than 80% of this environment is unexplored. The rich and undiscovered aquatic biodiversity under the sea boasts great potential for treatment advances, including new compounds for anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, and antiviral drugs.
Despite the barriers to both accessing and researching the largest ecosystem on Earth, it still remains one of the most curious facets of our planet. It is becoming increasingly important to broaden the conversation about saving our home before it’s too late. What lurks under the sea might just save us.
From SATNAV Issue 23, pages 18-19.