Category: Technology

Part 3: Biomimicry for coastal protection

About 40% of the world’s population lives within 100 kilometers of a coast and that number continues to increase. We all know too well the challenges and hazards associated with this trend.

As described in Part 1 however, we exacerbate the coastline’s natural resilience to storm surges, high wind and waves as we continue the ‘domino effect’ of erosion and shoreline armoring. We build harbors, marinas and other public access points to the water as well as protective structures to calm the waters near those access points, but that causes adjacent downdrift shoreline erosion. That affected shoreline, in turn, then requires armoring to mitigate the wave energy directly breaking on its shoreline.

How do we break this cycle? What is the balance between human activities in and along Lake Erie and natural processes? Do human activities directly oppose natural processes or can we find a synergistic and regenerative relationship?

Much of this topic was covered in Biohabitats’ Summer Solstice 2017 issue of Leaf Litter. The theme was Restoring Ecology Along the Urban Waterfront. I encourage you to check out the issue here. I even contributed an article entitled “Ecological Restoration Toolkit for the Urban Waterfront.” Many of the current solutions that Chris Streb mentioned in his presentation at the Biomimicry Open Innovation Session were covered in that article.

I’ll touch on a few solutions today, but I encourage you to check out the included links for more information.

ShoreSections_All_AreaLabels_600-002SM

Visualization of a natural, industrialized and reimagined shoreline by Biohabitats – featured in their Summer Solstice issue of Leaf Litter

 

I love the above visualization from Biohabitats. This image shows the potential of balance between the natural and industrialized coastline. Try to find all the additional green space in the reimagined photo!

The reimagined photo shows a couple of elements. One element is the floating wetland in the waterfront channel. Floating wetlands (FWs), an ecologically engineered technology, represent an effort to mimic the wetlands and marshes that existed long ago along our freshwater and marine shorelines. FWs hold the promise of returning ecological services like pollutant uptake and transformation, water quality improvement, wave attenuation, habitat, and aesthetic beautification. Biohabitats has deployed or studied floating wetlands in locations such as Jamaica Bay, NY, Potomac Yards in Washington, DC, and Orleans, MA.

Floating wetlands

Floating wetland – provided by Chris Streb, ecological engineer at Biohabitats

Floating wetlands work best in calmer waters however, generally near bays, marinas and harbors.

Higher energy environments are tougher, but wave energies are significantly reduced by underwater structures. These structures can be natural like sandbars or created elements such as living breakwaters constructed from oyster shells and spat, ECOncrete armoring units or Biohut breakwater units by Ecocean.

Oyster-ball-at-Gerritsen-Creek

Spat set on oyster ball ready to be deployed at Gerritsen Creek- originally featured in Biohabitats’ Summer Solstice issue of Leaf Litter

Another element shown in the reimagined photo above is a submerged structure attached to the seawall. This structure is related to a project I mentioned yesterday in Part 2: the “greening” of the bulkheads along the Cuyahoga River shipping channel. Biohabitats completed a project with the Cuyahoga County Planning Commission (CCPC) designing, installing and evaluating hexagonal steel casing structures attached to existing bulkheads (or seawalls) filled with various habitat-supporting materials such as bioballs, sticks and brushes. Six-month testing showed that all designs accumulated a biomass layer and small organism attachment and proved durable within the channel.

Securing-Bio-Balls-1

Securing bioball baskets – originally featured in Biohabitats’ Summer Solstice issue of Leaf Litter

Green bulkheads

Successful installation of hexagonal structures along the bulkheads – provided by Chris Streb, Biohabitats

Many of these solutions use natural materials and attach to existing protection structures or exist as separate elements. If we look back at the potential areas of focus explored during the Biomimicry Open Innovation Session, one focus was materials. What if instead of natural material (woody debris and vegetation) versus built material (rock, cement and steel), we considered a third category of material? Alternative, biologically compatible materials that offer both functional and ecological benefits? What would that look like?

What if we used the principles of wave dissipation from a kelp forest or freshwater marsh or the principles of connectivity, hierarchy and material composites in a coral reef to design our coastal protection structures?

These questions and more will be the focus of my PhD research, and I will continue to share updates with you in future blog posts! Have more ideas? Comment below and I hope you enjoyed this three part introductory series!

Additional References:

http://www.un.org/esa/sustdev/natlinfo/indicators/methodology_sheets/oceans_seas_coasts/pop_coastal_areas.pdf

The featured image is a wetland restoration at Freshkills Park in New York City. More information about the restoration project can be found here:

http://www.biohabitats.com/projects/freshkills-park-north-park-wetland-restoration-design-construction/

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Part 1: Biomimicry for coastal protection

Back in late February near the start of my PhD, my sponsors were asked if they had an interest in organizing a Biomimicry Open Innovation Session for 2017. Similar to last October’s Open Innovation Session organized by former Biomimicry Fellow Emily Kennedy (now a graduate!) and her sponsor GOJO, the idea is to pose a challenge statement unique to your industry that is open to collaboration and biomimicry design thinking to seek potential solutions. These sessions leverage the regional biomimicry community with support from Great Lakes Biomimicry.

Following many planning sessions with my three sponsors (Biohabitats, Cleveland Water Alliance, ODNR) as well as Great Lakes Biomimicry throughout the year, the Innovation Session was held at the Great Lakes Brewing Company Tasting Room on Wednesday November 1st from 1-5pm. 26 people from 8 unique institutions participated with 10+ biomimicry models identified and abstractions generated!

Innovation Session group photo

Participants working on biological model identification and principle abstraction at the Great Lakes Brewing Company Tasting Room, credit: Christine Hockman, Great Lakes Biomimicry

The challenge statement was as follows: To incorporate habitat features into existing and/or new shore protection structures to provide aquatic habitat for targeted fish species and enhance ecological functions, benefits and services in both freshwater riverine and coastal environments

Three potential focus areas were given:

  1. Structure: Alter structure to absorb or dissipate instead of reflect or refract wave energy. Wave reflection & refraction result in altered sediment transport pathways along Lake Erie’s shoreline.
  2. Habitat utilization: Nursery habitat for larval and young fish, habitat refugia that provide hiding places and protection against predators, feeding habitat for foraging fish.
  3. Materials: Soft structures utilize natural materials, like woody debris and vegetation, while hard structures are comprised of rock, cement and steel. Consider alternative, biologically compatible materials that offer functional benefits. Or, offer a solution between hard and soft structures or a structure that can be a combination of both hard and soft materials.

Throughout this week, I have prepared a three-part series (Tuesday through Friday morning) to share the content from the introductory presentations given at the start of the Innovation Session. I am presenting all this information for a few reasons. First, for those who didn’t attend to learn about what was presented and discussed. Second, for all those who follow this blog to learn more about the background behind my PhD thesis. 2018 (Year 2) is coming up for me already, which means a hopeful thesis proposal defense by the end of Year 2!

The three presentations were:

  • Characterization of the Ohio Lake Erie shoreline through the lens of coastal protection – Jim Park, ODNR Coastal Engineer (Part 1)
  • Aquatic habitat for targeted nearshore and open fish populations of Lake Erie – Scott Winkler, Ohio EPA Division of Surface Waters (Part 2)
  • Coastal restoration: Project examples of coastal protection and ecological function – Chris Streb, Biohabitats Ecological Engineer (Part 3)

Part 1: Characterization of the Ohio Lake Erie shoreline through the lens of coastal protection

What is a shore protection structure?
Jim gave many examples, which included revetments, seawalls, groins, breakwaters and beach.

Revetments are typically composed of large, rough, angular rock on a slope that dissipates wave energy on both the slope and rough surface. Revetments typically protect the foot of a cliff or a dune, or a dike or seawall against erosion by wave actions, storm surge and currents.

Revetment example

Example of revetment – provided by Jim Park, ODNR

Seawalls are vertical structures at the land/water interface designed to prevent erosion and storm surge flooding. They are made of concrete block, cast-in-place concrete or steel sheet pile. Seawalls reflect wave energy; they do not dissipate. Seawalls provide easy access to the water by boats docked along the wall. Steel sheet pile seawalls are almost exclusively used along the mouth of the Cuyahoga River in downtown Cleveland for transportation of goods by freighters and for recreational boaters to dock by restaurants along the water.

Seawall example

Example of seawall – provided by Jim Park, ODNR

Groins are shore-perpendicular structures made of stone, concrete or sheet-pile. They are effective in beach protection and had widespread past use in Ohio. If you are familiar with the Cleveland coastline, there are a few stone groins at Edgewater Beach and a few being installed at Perkins Beach currently!

Groin example

Example of groin – provided by Jim Park, ODNR

Breakwaters can be submerged, off-shore or connected to the land and are made up of large stone. They are designed to reduce wave action. Breakwaters are usually built to provide calm waters for harbors and marinas. Submerged breakwaters are specifically built to reduce beach erosion. A beach is typically formed or retained on the landward site.  They may also be referred to as artificial “reefs.”
If beaches are there, they are the most natural and effective form of shore protection.

Concrete rubble

Eastern Cuyahoga and Lake Counties – concrete rubble

The Ohio shoreline of Lake Erie is one of the most developed and structurally protected of the Great Lakes. Structural protection began in the early 1800s with the development of harbors, but any protection structure caused adjacent downdrift shoreline erosion. The affected shoreline, in turn, then requires armoring to mitigate the wave energy breaking directly on the shoreline rather than dissipating along the beach. As the Lake Erie Commission explains in their 2004 State of the Lake Report, “This ‘domino effect’ of erosion and shoreline armoring continues to this day.”

These shore protection structures have limited natural habitat value and alter coastal and hydrologic connections that in turn affect ecological processes and biological life cycles. On the mainland shore of western Lake Erie, the current coastal protection structures are not favorable to the nearshore biological community in both structure type and composition.

We know that coastal protection structures alter the primary mode of wave energy reduction; i.e. some reflect the waves back into the lake or refract the waves instead of dissipate. We also know these structures disrupt sediment (or the more technical term – littoral) transport pathways across the lake and many cause downdrift shoreline erosion. We also know they disconnect the land-water interface. How does this connection and other disruptions affect ecological processes and biological life cycles? We will touch on this question some with Scott Winkler’s presentation on nearshore fish populations tomorrow for Part 2!

Feel free to comment below or reach out to me on LinkedIn throughout this week if you have questions or ideas to contribute!

References:

Fuller, J.A., and B.E. Gerke. 2005. Distribution of shore protection structures and their erosion effectiveness and biological compatibility. Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Sandusky, Ohio.

[LEC] Lake Erie Commission. 2004a. State of Ohio, State of the Lake Report. Toledo, Ohio.

*Note- All shore protection structure photos were part of the presentation given by Jim Park on November 1st at Great Lakes Brewing Company Tasting Room. Permission was granted to share content and photos.

Biomimicry for Technology-Push (vs. Market-Pull) Innovation

Market-pull innovation is driven by customer needs. Demand for a solution to a problem triggers its development. For example, the digital camera was invented because customers grew impatient waiting for film to be developed, and expressed desire to be able to view their photos instantaneously. The philosophy behind a market-pull innovation strategy is encapsulated in the familiar adage, “necessity is the mother of invention.” Problem-driven biomimicry, comprising the following five iterative steps, can support market-pull innovation:

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http://unanimous.ai/watch-50-people-think-as-one/

Human Swarm

This blog is based on this paper: “Crowds vs Swarms, a Comparison of Intelligence” by Louis Rosenberg, David Baltaxe, and Niccolo Pescetelli.

Recently, I went for a conference organized by Daniel Palmer and Marc Kirschenbaum of John Carroll University on Blended Intelligence. I thought it appropriate to talk about one of the talks. How do we get intelligence from a crowd of people, surveys, interviews? How does nature get intelligence from its beings? Authors claim nature does not aggregate independent samples but works on a closed real-time loop with continuous feedback. Hence, can we have a human swarm similar to a flock of birds or a school of fish and does it result in better intelligence? That is exactly what the authors put to test with their software UNU. UNU works by having a group of knowledgable individuals about a specific topic to come together virtually and decided on an answer for a given question. Each user has a magnet which he/she can use to pull the puck toward their desired answer.

What of the results? Check this article on how it predicted the Kentucky Derby, or read their paper on its prediction for the 2016 Super Bowl; a human swarm of 20 people outperformed (68% correctly) a crowd of 469 football fans (47% correctly). If this doesn’t impress you, well the swarm outperformed 98% of independent individuals in the study. Now, could this be a reason to pool our intelligence in order to tackle more challenging questions facing us in the future? Could this help in finding solutions to climate change that is affecting us more every day.

Do you want to try it? All you need is to sign up, verify your email, and you’ll be in your way to create you first UNU human swarm, or you can just enter one of their open UNUs. Finally check out their tutorial: https://youtu.be/TkAoRUHs5F0

 

Drilling evolutionary theories from primitive technology

In Cats’ Paws and Catapults (1998), Steven Vogel compares the mechanics of nature and human technology. He acknowledges the crucial differences between these two “schools of design,” but still draws attention to a list of similar factors shaping and constraining both innovation processes. For instance, he mentions incremental progress as being a common feature:

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Brains, Brains, Brains…

“If the brain were so simple we could understand it, we would be so simple we couldn’t.” Lyall Watson

Summer time! For me it means working on bio-inspired algorithms, one in particular I’ve been spending some time on is Artificial Neural Networking (ANN). This had me asking my sister (who is working on her PhD in neuroscience) about how synapses, pathways, etc. work. This post will be on how ANN was inspired and some of the materials I found interesting on it. Let’s start with the obsession with neural network and why it matters? Machines do complicated mathematical calculations in a matter of seconds, yet they have difficulty performing some easy tasks such as recognizing faces, understanding and speaking in local languages, passing theTurning test. OK, let’s compare machines to our brain: A single transistor in your home computer is quite fast; only limited by speed of light and the physical distance to propagate a signal. A signal(Ions) in the neuron, on the other hand, propagates on a fraction of the speed (Flake, 1999). This begs the question, which is better? A good comparison can be found here. One main fact is that our brain makes use of a massive parallelism; it’s this massive interaction between axons and dendrites that contribute to how our brain works. Many argue that the comparison to computers is not very useful as they work differently from each other. Can we make a digital reconstruction of human brain? I follow Blue Brain project for this. Hence, as you can guess ANN algorithm is a simple imitation of how our neurons work. It works by feed forward and back propagations to learn patterns. Originally proposed as McCulloch-Putts neuron in the 1940s and 1980s by invention of Hopfield-Tank feedback neuron network. The 1960s had an good optimistic start on neural networks with the work of Frank Rosenblatt’s perceptron (a pattern classification device). However, by 1969 there was a decline in this research and publication of Perceptrons by Marvin Minsky and Seymour Papert caused it to almost die off. Minsky and Papert showed how a single perceptron was insufficient with any learning algorithm by giving it mathematical proofs. It took a while and many independent works till the value of Neural Networking came to light again. One main contribution is the two-volume book titled Parallel Distributed Processing by James L. McClelland and David E. Rumelhart and their collaborators. In this work, they changed the proposed unit step function proposed to a smooth sigmoid function and added a backward error signal propagation using weights of some hidden neurons called back propagation (Flake, 1999). Reading through chapter 20 of Parallel Distributed Processing written by F. Crick and C. Asanuma, I read about physiology and anatomy of the cerebral cortex. It shows different neural profiles.

Screen Shot 2016-07-24 at 11.35.30 AM(McClelland, 1989)

It talks about different layers in the cortex such as the superficial, upper, middle, and deep layer, axons, synapses, neurotransmitters. The more I read, the more I come to appreciate the complexity of our brain and wonder about the simplicity of Artificial Neural Network algorithms, and can’t help but feel amazed by what Blue Brain Project is aiming to do.

Like a house-cat exploring its environment, lets dive into narrow unexplored places…

Books:

Flake, G. W. The computational beauty of nature, 1999

McClelland, J. L. Rumelhart, D. E. Parallel distributed processing, Volume 2. Psychological and biological models, 1989

My research crowdfunding experience

Hi GermiNature readers,

maxresdefaultI was hoping that by now I would be able to share the videos from our TEDxUniversityofAkron Salon event (April 5th, 2016) with you. However, the videos are not ready yet. So I’m going to tell you a little bit about my research crowdfunding experience that happened about the same time. Continue reading

Merging Art, Design, and Science in Research

03.25.16-Oxman-Krebs

As the last couple of my blog posts have given good examples of research projects and works that fuse art, design, and science, I thought it would be worth dedicating a short post to explain the similarities between the worlds, reveal what research could look like when merging them, and give a bio-inspired example.

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Biomimicry Within Digital Arts and Technology

Biomimicry is a tool/discipline that can be used in many fields ranging from industrial design, architecture, engineering, math, and even computer science. Being from a graphic design background and practicing digital painting, I find myself struggling to find exactly where biomimicry fits within the digital aesthetics realm. Can a designer/artist practice digital arts in a biomimetic way, or are the digital arts just a good tool to perform and carry out biomimetic thinking within a digital space? Surely when you are 3D modeling a biomimetic building or product on your computer, you are aiding in the biomimetic design process, but the 3D modeling process itself isn’t the thing that is biomimetic, is it? Biomimicry, in root words terms, is the act of mimicking life. How literally should we take this? Is virtual reality a sort of biomimicry because it does just that; mimics life? Maybe it’s just a useful tool to aid in the design process. These are some of the things I hope to figure out in my studies, but I’m finding as I dig deeper that when approaching biomimicry with a digital aesthetics lens, that it’s not just about the design process and appearance, but also about how using digital tools can help learn or experience something in the natural world. It is possible that, like art, digital aesthetics is particularly useful to inspire, evoke emotions, and increase understanding using the natural world as a muse. Continue reading