Proteus Unveiled: Fabien Cousteau’s Underwater ‘Space Station’ Could Revolutionize Ocean Research
Sixty feet below the surface of the Caribbean Sea, off the coast of Curaçao, aquanaut Fabien Cousteau and industrial designer Yves Behar want to build the world's largest underwater research station and habitat. It could forever change how underwater research is done.
It will house up to 12 scientists and researchers from across the globe at one time and is intended to be an underwater version of the International Space Station (ISS). Government agencies, scientists and the private sector will be able to collaborate "in the spirit of collective knowledge, irrespective of borders" to explore and research everything from new medicinal discoveries to food sustainability to the effects of climate change, reported CNN and a press release from Cousteau's Ocean Learning Center (FCOLC).
"As our life support system, the Ocean is indispensable to solving the planet's biggest problems. Challenges created by climate change, rising sea levels, extreme storms and viruses represent a multi-trillion-dollar risk to the global economy," Cousteau said in the release. "The knowledge that will be uncovered underwater will forever change the way generations of humans live up above."
The two-story circular, spiral structure is grounded to the ocean floor on stilts, with modular, protruding pods containing laboratories, personal quarters, medical bays and storage, said fuseproject. The largest pod contains a moon pool for divers to access the ocean floor and submersibles to dock with the underwater ISS, and all pods can be attached or detached to adapt to specific needs of the mission at hand. Proteus is powered by wind, solar and ocean thermal energy, and features the first underwater greenhouse for growing food, and wellness designs like windows for light and a ramp for exercise to make long-term underwater living more sustainable, CNN reported.
Underwater habitats allow scientists to perform continuous night and day diving without decompression between dives; they can stay underwater for days or weeks at a time, much like astronauts in the ISS, CNN reported. No longer fettered by limited oxygen supplies, dive logistics or the need to acclimate to changing pressures, scientists in Proteus should be able to complete 30 to 40 times the research than one having to continually surface would in the same time frame, Cousteau believes, reported Fast Company.
Proteus' onsite lab will facilitate the processing of organic samples in real time, rather than specimens rapidly degrading or dying on their way to the surface, the FCOLC release noted, and could lead to cleaner data. Proteus will also house a full-scale video production facility to provide continuous live streaming for educational programs.
Innovation comes at a price: $135 million, according to Fast Company.
Right now, the project is in the concept stage. If Cousteau can secure the funding, it will take three years before Proteus is installed, reported CNN.
"Like all big dreams, it will need further development," Béhar told Fast Company. "But one of the ways we've done fundraising in the last few months is by sharing this concept and sharing this dream."
Cousteau, whose famed grandfather Jacques-Yves Cousteau pioneered ocean exploration and scuba, hopes to eventually create a worldwide network of underwater research habitats to propel ocean exploration, reported CNN.
Though oceans cover 71% of the world's surface, NOAA estimates that humans have only explored about 5% and mapped less than 20%, reported CNN. Cousteau hopes Proteus will change that.
"Ocean exploration is 1,000 times more important than space exploration for — selfishly — our survival, for our trajectory into the future," Cousteau said, reported CNN. "It's our life support system. It is the very reason why we exist in the first place."
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.