Saturday, August 06, 2016

Actual food is being grown underwater in these ridiculously sci-fi biosphere pods

Actual food is being grown underwater in these ridiculously sci-fi biosphere pods

Actual food is being grown underwater in these ridiculously sci-fi biosphere pods

Think that the sea only provides fish and seaweed for us to eat? Soon we could be harvesting way more munch from the oceans thanks to super-smart scuba divers and a story that's crying out to be made into a movie called 'Deep Carrot'

Sergio and Luca Gamberini, an Italian father and son team who run scuba diving gear company Ocean Reef Group, are pioneering a new kind of hydroponics, by growing plants under the sea. The research project, dubbed Nemo's Garden – a nod to the main character in Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea – certainly has more than a twist of sci-fi to it.

In Noli, a bay in northern Italy, balloon-like biosphere structures that retain air inside of them while underwater have been anchored to the seabed, around eight metres down. Plants, including basil, strawberry, and tomatoes, have successfully grown inside of these pods from seeds. The air within the pods evaporates sea water, distilling it into fresh water, which keeps the plants constantly hydrated.

An underwater biosphere for growing plants. Makes your parents' greenhouse seem pretty lame, huh?

These plants aren't exposed to many of the hazardous weather extremities they might experience on land, such as droughts or flooding. Being underwater provides them with a consistent temperature, water supply and humidity. They also are protected from parasites and vermin, although apparently a few sneaky crabs and curious octopuses have been found congregating around the pods.

Longtime scuba diver Sergio Gamberini came up with the idea while on holiday and got to work straightaway, making small mock-ups of the biospheres, which he placed in fish tanks.

"I see possibilities for developing countries, where harsh conditions make it difficult for plants to grow"

The team have been growing plants underwater for a few years now. A successful Kickstarter campaign enabled them to expand their research, and now the biospheres have been fitted with sensors so they can collect real-time data on temperature, light and oxygen and carbon dioxide levels. The team also installed a webcam, so that people can watch the underwater setup when it runs between May and September each year.

But it's not all been plain sailing. Or smooth diving. Or whatever. Rough seas have destroyed crops, and protecting the plants from currents and tides is one of the biggest challenges the team faces. But when the team does successfully harvest the crops, they celebrate by having a party and breaking out the herb – we mean the underwater basil they've been growing, of course, which is then used to make pesto.

Seriously, this isn't a still from a new sci-fi flick – this is happening. Right now.

This may seem like an elaborate way to grow plants when a pot on the windowsill does the same job, but the Gamberinis have grand ambitions for the project. They're hoping it will be a new, environmentally friendly and sustainable way to help ensure food security. They're even encouraging fans of the project to create their own underwater gardens.

"In the future, it'll definitely be something that's economically sustainable," Luca Gamberini told the Washington Post. "I see possibilities for developing countries, where harsh conditions make it difficult for plants to grow."

Looks like underwater could soon be the new above-ground as far as crop growing is concerned. Now, don't bogart that basil pesto, and pass it on – to the left, of course.



~A.

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