Tag Archives: SediMeter

Innovation: The Sediment Spill Case

What creates competitiveness? How does a company, a region, or a country get an edge? The question is of concern for the European Union, since the US of A and parts of Asia typically outperform the EU in innovation. However, it is of even greater concern for a third world country. What is a country such as Honduras to do to catch up with the industrialized nations? Obviously there is no point in just copying what they have done, since the target is moving. The ambition must be to be ahead of the pack, and for that innovation is necessary.

Today I stumbled upon an interesting book, “The Innovation Platform – Enabling balance between growth and renewal” (VINNOVA Report VR 2009:25, by Niklas Arvidsson & Ulf Mannervik). The key concept is that the business cycle has two phases, exploration and exploitation.

Most of the time the economy is in an exploitation phase, gradually refining itself to maximize profitability. This is the part of the business cycle when the profits are raked, the conservative, cautious phase. However, if it stays too long in this phase it will stagnate, and the risk is that another actor, region, or country will out-compete it with a novel innovation. So every now and then the cycle has to shift to the explorative phase.

In the explorative phase more money is spent on pursuing ideas, trying novel things, not just in technology but also in rearranging the market, and generally in disassembling and recreating the structures in a part of the economy. The book mentions some examples from Sweden, including a new strategy for developing medicines, and the development of titanium screws for dental implants.

The authors write that policy-makers have to become aware of the two different modes of operation, because if they aren’t, they will typically end up inadvertently strengthening status quo when they try to stimulate innovation. They also argue that the key is the switching between the exploitation and the exploration phase, and back again, and point to the crucial role that social networks played in their case studies.

It is hardly surprising that in all three case studies the innovation was met with a significant resistance from established actors. It is rather self-evident that companies that are making a profit and are in the exploitation phase do not wish for change to come (nor do the trade unions for that matter, they have a vested interest with their employers). The ones to challenge the existing order are the entrepreneurs, one or at most a couple of persons who had the vision of a better solution, and who were fortunate enough to have access to the financing required to carry out their vision. Because it is not cheap. Innovation of a scale that changes a market model takes many years, it is not comparable to a simple invention of a new product, something that can be done within a year.

Spill Monitoring and the SediMeter

One reason I enjoyed reading this book so much was that I recognize my own situation, in a much more modest context, of course. Three factors combined to make me realize a few years back that an innovation was called for, and that I was in the position to make it happen.

First, I had been an expert for the Swedish government in auditing the sediment spill measurements from the largest and most ambitious such project in the world, the building of the Öresund Bridge between Sweden and Denmark. This had taught me the details of the measurement challenge, the statistics, and the regulatory implications. It had also made me realize that the present method of doing things was not optimal from a cost-benefit point of view.

Second, I had invented an instrument that would be useful for monitoring the siltation that sediment spill causes, the SediMeter. It was on the market but the model was not optimized for the task, having been developed for a different purpose.

Third, after coming to Florida, where I taught Environmental Science and Oceanography, and studied up on the local issues and regulations, I realized that change was needed. The Clean Water Act says that the turbidity shall be measured at a distance of 150 m (500 feet to be precise) in the center of the plume with a specific design of instrument. The method is highly subjective, cannot be audited, and since it is established in the law (not regulation, but law) there is no room for development. let alone innovation. At the same time, it seems clear that sediment spill has indeed caused environmental damage, e.g. to the coral reefs in southern Florida (the world’s third largest coral reef tract). The law benefits the polluters at the expense of the environment.

What I did was to start from the opposite end, looking at how biotopes can be affected by the spill. Based on that, and on an understanding of the regulation and auditing requirements, I designed a way to regulate that involves measuring as close to the impact as possible – and that uses stationary monitoring instruments rather than ships, since ship time is very expensive. With that regulatory framework defined, I went to the next step, to develop a SediMeter and software based on the requirements that followed from the specification.

With distributors around the world, this solution is now being actively marketed in many countries. Fortunately, in most countries implementing a new method can probably be made without legislative change. However, the U.S. is an exception.

Why does the U.S. have even the instrument design in the law? It is an obvious case of locking down technology for an exploitation phase. It allowed manufacturers to invest in a specific technology and optimize that for profitability. This created a de facto U.S. standard that is different from the international (ISO) standard. When it comes to the requirement for measuring 150 m away that is rather logical; the law was apparently written with rivers in mind, and there it is a reasonable rule. It was subsequently applied also in the ocean, even though the rule is, as I have said, quite inappropriate there. Thus the need for change.


Some conclusions that can be drawn, and that may be of use for policy-makers, are the following:

Laws should deal with principles, not details. Details should be left for the regulating agency, so that they can be modified as innovation takes place, and so that the law does not stifle development. The significance of this is to not put up obstacles for moving from an exploitation phase to an exploration phase.

For innovation to take place two things are required: An entrepreneur, and resources. Resources is more than capital, it is also information, communication, supplies, machines, raw materials, and access to people to ask advice from. Still, there must be risk capital available for the entrepreneur in this exploration phase, since there is a significant risk involved, and it may be many years before the full payoff comes.

For the switch back from the exploration to the exploitation phase the entrepreneur must be able to get acceptance for the novelty. This can be done by scientific publication. The implication for a third world country is that it is important to have qualified scholars who can get published in appropriate journals. In all three case studies in the Swedish book there were university scholars involved.

Finally, for the exploitation phase to be successful it is beneficial to have a social network with companies that can complement each other, and cost-optimize the service of the market. As the book I mentioned initially says, in at least one of the case studies the original developer company later specialized, which opened the field for a range of other companies that each one serviced a narrow segment, plus companies that serviced these companies. This created an environment, a cluster, which in turn leads to more chances for development.

If we look at Honduras, I believe the main problem is that the country is firmly locked in an exploitation phase, with virtually no possibility for shifting to an exploration mode; partly for administrative reasons, partly for economical reasons. Those that are making money today have made sure that the system does not change. If the country is to become a developed nation, and not an impoverished emigrant nation, permitting innovation is the first thing to do.

It was Data, not Noise

Again it turns out that things aren’t always what they seem to be. When looking at a suspended solution in much higher resolution than before, unsuspected details emerged.

Turbidity of settling 2,000 FTU formazin measured every 20 seconds.
Turbidity of settling 2,000 FTU formazin measured every 20 seconds. Yellow area is over 2200 FTU. CLick to read more.

What appeared to be a uniform suspension in which the particles sank in their characteristic settling velocity, turned out to apparently be a liquid with significant turbulence. Small “packages” of water with higher turbidity (lighter) or lower (darker) move in opposite direction in front of the sensor. The sensor is a SediMeter, consisting of 36 infrared optical backscatter detectors (OBS) 10 mm apart. It was developed for studying sedimentation, erosion, siltation and re-suspension.

Note that at time 16:40 there is some fascinating micro-turbulence with variations of around 10% within a minute outside a given sensor. If measuring once per minute, this might have been interpreted as noise, but with this high temporal resolution, one can clearly see how discrete packets of more turbid water are sinking.

An old and time-proven method to do grain-size analyses on fine-grained cohesive sediments (such as clay and silt) is to suspend them in water, and measure how fast they sink. This can be done with either the pipette method (extracting water at a certain level and weighing the sediments after drying it), or the hydrometer method (measuring the density of the liquid). In both cases one assumes that after X seconds, all sediment size Y or coarser have sedimented (cf. Stoke’s Law). It would be interesting to see, using this instrument, what really goes on in that sedimentation vessel…

Att rädda sjön Yojoa från övergödning och fiskdöd

Postat 14:31, reviderat 15:18: Som läsare av denna blogg har kunnat se, så har jag besökt Honduras under 10 dagar. Huvudsyftet var dock vare sig att hälsa på släkt och vänner, eller att blanda mig i deras politik, utan att installera en mätstation åt FN-organet IAEA, i Lago de Yojoa. Stationen är levererad av Lindorm, Inc., och inkluderar sensorer för luftfuktighet, luft- och vattentemperatur, sedimentation, resuspension, och grumlighet. På stranden står en annan station som också mäter fuktighet och temperatur, jämte avdunstning och nederbörd.

The LogDator Buoy, from Lindorm, Inc., in Lago de Yojoa, Honduras.
LogDator Boj, från Lindorm, Inc., i Lago de Yojoa, Honduras.

Huvudsyftet med stationen är att undersöka sjöns hydrologiska balans, speciellt avdunstningen. Misstanken bakom projektet är att vatten försvinner underjordiskt, vilket minskar utbytet i kraftverket i Cañaveral. Ett bisyfte är att samla in kvantitativa data om den resuspension med efterföljande syrebrist som tenderar att inträffa i november varje år, i samband med den första riktiga kallfronten. Somliga år leder den till omfattande fiskdöd, så även i år – just när jag var där, faktiskt. Vi hade dykare i vattnet någon dag före fiskdöden, och de rapporterade att vattnet var kolsvart, det gick inte att se någonting på bottnen på grund av brist på ljus och noll sikt. De hade av en slump dykt just på resuspensionen pågick, en dag med ganska kraftig och kall vind.

Lago de Yojoa är gammal. För drygt 10,000 år sedan inträffade ett vulkanutbrott i utloppet till den då mycket mindre sjön, vilket dämde upp den till den storlek den idag har. Sedimentationen sedan dess har varit blygsamma 4 meter ungefär. Trots berg och relativt riklig nederbörd är sedimentationen ringa beroende på litet dräneringsområde och ekologiskt hållbar markanvändning (vare sig mayaindianerna eller européerna har idkat markförstörande jordbruk i denna trakt). Indianerna vid Los Naranjos har högst sannolikt levt där i 4,000 år och odlat majs på likartat sett, och dessförinnan var markanvändningen ensartad under minst 6,000 år.

Vulkanerna vid Yojoa. Den längst till höger blockerar Río Yojoa.
Vulkanerna vid Yojoa. Den längst till höger blockerar Río Yojoa. Sjöns naturliga utlopp flyttades av utbrottet från norra till södra änden av sjön.

De senaste åren har en omfattande fiskodling, av Tilapia, börjat i sjön. Varje gång jag återkommer är omfattningen större än förra gången. Härom året beräknades näringstillförseln till sjön ha ökat till 2000% över den naturliga nivån, huvudsakligen som resultat av den fiskmat som tillförs. Detta förväntar jag mig leda till att allt större mängder organiskt material deponeras tillfälligt på bottnen, för att sedan resuspenderas av höststormarna, med resultatet att det blir allt mer syrebrist och fiskdöd. Det var naturligtvis detta som motiverade mig att övertala dem att mäta också dessa miljöparametrar. För att ytterligare hjälpa dem med sina limnologiska undersökningar donerade jag i måndags ett ventillod, så att de kan hålla koll på hur mycket näringsämnen som ackumuleras i sedimenten.

Här ger jag propptagaren till Dr. Sandoval på ENEE. Eva och Manuel håller i den.
Här ger jag propptagaren till Dr. Sandoval på ENEE. Eva och Manuel håller i den.

Tyvärr är inte allt solsken. Ryktet spreds att bojen i stationen var förgiftad, och att det var den som dödat fiskarna. När polisen inte ingrep drog någon upp och kastade utrustning i sjön till ett värde av ungefär 70 tusen kronor, som donerats av FN. Sannolikt för att stjäla ett 30 m långt rep, vilket för dem tydligen är guld värt. Och så klagar folk på att de är fattiga, och säger att det är de rikas fel. Jag gick ut i lokal TV och bad tittarna att de skulle lämna in vadhelst av instrument de hittade drivande i sjön.

När vi nu snuddade vid politik så meddelas att Micheletti lämnar presidentämbetet för en vecka (DN). Själv hade jag föredragit att han hade sagt upp sig villkorslöst (och inte som hittills villkorat till att Zelaya slutar kräva återinsättning). Detta var den fråga jag bar omkring på i Tegucigalpa i hopp om att få en chans att träffa honom och ställa den till honom själv: “Om Ni visste att EU skulle erkänna nästa president, även en interimspresident, ifall Ni lämnade in er avskedsansökan till kongressen utan villkor, skulle Ni då göra det för landets bästa?” Skulle han mot förmodan svara så kommer jag naturligtvis att vidarebefordra svaret.

Hela Michelettis tal återges här. Både armén och polisen står nu under valtribunalens befäl, och reserverna håller just på att mobiliseras. Alla förväntar sig terroristattacker i syfte att försöka sabotera valet. Vad världen verkar ha missat är att om extremisterna ledda av Zelaya lyckas, så leder det enligt grundlagen till att Micheletti sitter kvar som president i två år till. Det är förbjudet att hålla nyval tidigare. Syftet med bojkotten och sabotagen av valet är därför inte att rädda demokratin, utan att förstöra demokratin; att göra om landet till diktatur (då man tror att man kan få Zelaya återinsatt efter ett misslyckat val). Förutom att mobilisera samtliga resurser har man också beslutat att kräva in alla privata skjutvapen, från och med måndag tills efter valet (La Prensa).