Tag: Earth Sciences

Fighting Pollution With Seaweed

Coastal seaweed farms can help fight environmental damage.

Nitrogen is a common fertilizer for agriculture, but it comes with an environmental and financial price tag. Once nitrogen reaches the ocean, it disperses randomly, damaging various ecosystems. As a result, the state local authorities spend a great deal of money on reducing nitrogen concentrations in water, including in the Mediterranean Sea.

A new study by Tel Aviv University and University of California, Berkeley suggests that establishing seaweed farms in areas where freshwater rivers or streams meet the oceans, or so-called “river estuaries”, significantly reduces nitrogen concentrations and prevents pollution in marine environments.

As part of the study, the researchers built a large seaweed farm model for growing the ulva sp. green macroalgae in the Alexander River estuary, hundreds of meters from the open sea. The Alexander River was chosen because the river discharges polluting nitrogen from nearby upstream fields and towns into the Mediterranean Sea. Data for the model were collected over two years from controlled cultivation studies.

The study was headed by doctoral student Meiron Zollmann, under the joint supervision of Prof. Alexander Golberg of the Porter School of Environmental and Earth Sciences and Prof. Alexander Liberzon of the School of Mechanical Engineering at The Iby and Aladar Fleischman Faculty of Engineering, Tel Aviv University, and was conducted in collaboration with Prof. Boris Rubinsky of the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering at UC Berkeley. It was published in the prestigious journal Communications Biology.

“My laboratory researches basic processes and develops technologies for aquaculture,” explains Prof. Golberg. “We are developing technologies for growing seaweed in the ocean in order to offset carbon and extract various substances, such as proteins and starches, to offer a marine alternative to terrestrial agricultural production. In this study, we showed that if seaweed is grown according to the model we developed, in rivers’ estuaries, they can absorb the nitrogen to conform to environmental standards and prevent its dispersal in water and thus neutralize environmental pollution. This way, we actually produce a kind of ‘natural decontamination facility’ with significant ecological and economic value, as seaweed can be sold as biomass for human use.”

Profitable and Environmentally Friendly

“Our model allows marine farmers, as well as government and environmental bodies, to know in advance what the impact will be and what the products of a large seaweed farm will be – before setting up the actual farm,” adds Meiron Zollmann. “Thanks to mathematics, we know how to make the adjustments also concerning large agricultural farms and maximize environmental benefits, including producing the agriculturally desired protein quantities.”

“The whole world is moving towards green energy, and seaweed can be a significant source,” adds Prof. Liberzon, “and yet today, there is no single farm with the proven technological and scientific capability. The barriers are also scientific: We do not really know what the impact of a huge farm will be on the marine environment. It is like transitioning from a vegetable garden outside the house to endless fields of industrial farming. Our model provides some of the answers, hoping to convince decision-makers that such farms will be profitable and environmentally friendly. Furthermore, one can imagine even more far-reaching scenarios. For example, green energy: If we knew how to utilize the growth rates for energy in better percentages, it would be possible to embark on a one-year cruise with a kilogram of seaweed, with no additional fuel beyond the production of biomass in a marine environment.”

“The interesting connection we offer here is growing seaweed at the expense of nitrogen treatment,” concludes Prof. Golberg. “In fact, we have developed a planning tool for setting up seaweed farms in estuaries to address the environmental issue while producing economic benefit. We offer the design of seaweed farms in river estuaries containing large quantities of agriculturally related nitrogen residues to rehabilitate the estuary and prevent nitrogen from reaching the ocean while growing the seaweed itself for food. In this way, aquaculture complements terrestrial agriculture.”

Featured image: The cultivation reactor that was used as the base of the model

Our Planet in the Hands of Academia

TAU to launch a multidisciplinary research center on climate change with the aim of finding practical solutions to the global crisis.

Tel Aviv University will soon launch the multidisciplinary Center for Climate Change Action, with the aim of finding practical solutions to the global crisis. The new center, the first of its kind in Israel, will operate in the framework of the Porter School of the Environment and Earth Sciences, and will cover the subject from all angles, utilizing the knowledge, resources and capabilities of all faculties on campus (engineering, medicine, the exact sciences, life sciences and earth sciences, law, the social sciences, humanities, and the arts). The center will collaborate with representatives from industry, academia and government, in Israel and around the world, in an effort to develop technological solutions, raise public awareness, promote legislation and regulations, and more. Furthermore, the center will support the development of new and existing projects, award scholarships to students, develop a fellowship program, fund mentorships and advanced training programs, and launch an accelerator in collaboration with industry representatives. In addition, the center will publish annual position papers and organize international conferences.

“The time has come to find solutions”

Prof. Ariel Porat, President of Tel Aviv University: “Tel Aviv University is a partner in the need for all humankind to deal with the dangers of global warming and climate change. Confronting this challenge requires a view from many perspectives: technological, social, moral, economic, sociological, legal and more. The huge variety of disciplines at Tel Aviv University allows for such a broad view. This new multidisciplinary center that will deal with climate change joins the several multidisciplinary centers we have established in the last two years at the university, including the Center for Artificial Intelligence and Data Science, the Center for Combating Pandemics, and the Center for Quantum Science and Technology.” The center will be headed by Prof. Colin Price, Head of the university’s Department of Environmental Studies, who explains that “Basic research is important, but since we already know that there is a problem with global warming, and we know what causes the problem, the time has come to find solutions, from every perspective and every discipline. There are technological solutions that will come from engineering and the exact sciences, but there are also solutions that will come from regulation, public policy, and even psychology. After all, you don’t need modern technology to mobilize public support for action, and without this support, technological solutions will not be implemented. The Center for Climate Change Action will be a cross-campus collaboration, with partners in high-tech, industry, government and civil society.” According to Prof. Price, the main goal of the research center, and of humanity in general, is to first and foremost address the source of the problem, namely the greenhouse gases that humans emit into the atmosphere, and to meet the target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, as defined by the UN. “We have a total of 30 years to find solutions and reach a global balance, and there are still a lot of problems to solve,” adds Prof. Price. ”A good example of this is solar energy. It’s cheaper to generate electricity from solar energy today  than from a power plant that uses fuel, coal or even natural gas, but the solar energy must be transported to people’s homes, the electricity generated must be stored at night, that is, in batteries, and you need infrastructure to carry the energy to population centers. We need to invest in finding practical solutions today, in order to avoid the gloomy forecasts of tomorrow.” Prof. Colin Price: “We have a total of 30 years to find solutions and reach a global balance, and there are still a lot of problems to solve.”

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