Wave Driven Upwelling Pumps
Yurts at Poncha Pass - Colorado Yurt Rentals and Sustainable Building Workshops - Photo of Chris in ground of Earthship

Written by Chris

November 27, 2009

For over four years, the design to use wave driven upwelling pumps to pull nutrient rich water from the depths to the surface has been spear headed by Phill Kithill, a Native New Mexican inventor. The idea is simple; use the kinetic energy of waves to pull up deep nutrient rich water to the surface allowing phytoplankton to blooms, which in turn provide food for fish and sequester CO2.

These pumps would operate offshore helping to amplify natural blooms and create algae blooms in dead zones or areas of water with no life in the photosynthetic zone. These pumps do not only sequester carbon and create food, but they create jobs in the countries that choose to produce them and possible carbon credits in the future for those countries or companies.

 Do the pumps work though?

 Karl and Letelier, 2008 research and others support the hypothesis that controlled upwelling can in fact lead to phytoplankton blooms. Through photosynthesis, phytoplankton absorb CO2 and release O2. Once they are eaten or die and sink to the bottom of the ocean, that CO2 is sequestered or stored. The key factors determining CO2 ocean sequestration by N2– fixation or photosynthesis depend among other things on extra residual Phosphate found at higher concentrations in deep water or up welled water (Karl and Letelier, 2008). If wave driven pumps can be made to bring up Iron (Fe) and Phosphorus (P) to the photosynthetic zones, algae booms or diazotroph blooms will be triggered allowing for CO2 sequestration and food production (Karl and Letelier, 2008).

Preliminary tests off the coasts of Hawaii and the pacific coast of Mexico show that not only are the pumps feasible, they are functional. In the Hawaiian two-week test, increased fish presence around the pumps was noted as well as the presence of a whale shark (Kithil, 2009). This is not scientifically significant, but indicative of possible increased food sources. To see how they work, please view an interactive diagram on the Atmocean website under pump technology.

Why do we need upwelling pumps?

These upwelling pumps may not only increase productivity but also help stop the spread of dead zones. Due to climate change models, it has been found that increased atmospheric temperatures have created a greater stratification of natural upwelling cycles (Polovina et al. 2008). Polovina et al. 2008 data has also been consistent with previous data that supports increased vertical stratification, limiting natural upwelling cycles of oceans since the 1950’s which remains consistent with output models on global warming. Low surface chlorophyll areas in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans have expanded by 6.6 million km2 or by about 15% from 1998 through 2006 (Polovina et al. 2008). The North Atlantic with the smallest oligotrophic gyre (less than 0.07 mg chl/m3) is expanding most rapidly at around 4.3%/year (Polovina et al. 2008). These pumps would help amplify natural blooms and limit vertical stratification perhaps reversing the studied trend of increasing dead zones. This is of course in conjunction with increased food sources and sequestered carbon which remain the main goals and purpose of these natural pumps. To see more applications, please visit Atmocean application page.

This is a brief background into how wave driven upwelling pumps work as well as the reason for having them. To find out more about this exciting project or get involved, join atmocean upwelling pumps project found at ECOwaves.org.


 Karl, David M., Letelier, Ricardo M. Nitrogen fixation-enhanced carbon sequestration in low-nitrate, low chlorophyll seascapes. Marine Ecology Progress Series. Inter-Research 2008. www.int-res.com

 Kithil, Phil. Atmocean Inc. 607 Cerrillos, Santa Fe, NM. 2009. Website: http://www.atmocean.com/index.htm

 Polovina, Jeffrey J., Howell, Evan A., Abecassis, Melanie. Ocean’s least productive waters are expanding. Geophysical Research Letters. Vol: 35 L03618. 2008

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