Space & Innovation

Tectonics Lab Proposes New Supercontinent

Art meets science in an effort to bring nations together -- literally. Continue reading →

Conceptual artist and "experimental philosopher" Jonathon Keats is one of our favorite people here at Discovery News World Headquarters. His past projects include the 1,000-year exposure Millennium Camera and an employment service for bacteria. So whenever a new dispatch from Keats comes in, we know we're in for another interesting collision of science and art.

Keats' latest project involves a radically ambitious new plan to promote ecological conservation and manage climate change. The idea is to merge all the planet's land masses, by way of colossal geoengineering projects, into one giant supercontinent.

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Specifically, Keats has established the San Francisco-based Political Tectonics Lab, which specializes in the emerging field of diplomatic geoengineering. The goal is to shift and merge entire continents to offset historical and political rivalries. Using cutting-edge geoengineering techniques to gradually move tectonic plates, Keats' team hopes to bring nations together - quite literally - to combat climate change.

By closing the Pacific Ocean, for instance, the United States could be brought into geopolitical alignment with China and Russia. The nations would literally have common ground for working together on climate change. The new geoengineered supercontinent would be called Pangaea Optima, in reference to the planet's last supercontinent.

The project, as you may have intuited, is not entirely serious. But the way Keats sees it, the issues just underneath are as serious as the end of the world.

"The world climate is in crisis, a disaster that must be addressed at a global scale," Keats says. "We clearly don't have the political cohesiveness as a planet to counteract environmental ruin. We need a new approach. We need to enlist the grand scale of geoengineering in global politics by re-engineering political boundaries to literally bring the world together."

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The details of Keats' proposals will be officially unveiled in an exhibit at San Francisco's Modernism Gallery starting Thursday, October 22nd. Various surface and tectonic maps will be on display, as well as some technological prototypes such as the "plug-in nuclear power plant" and "multichannel magnetron." There will also be kits that visitors can use to design their own Pangaea Optima, for submission to the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris this December.

"We must take command of plate tectonics, geoengineering the next supercontinent, and we need to make it the best supercontinent possible," Keats says. "The last supercontinent broke up approximately 250 million years ago, and geologists predict the natural formation of another in approximately 250 million years. What we need, and much sooner, is Pangaea Optima. The job of the Political Tectonics Lab is to facilitate the creation of just such a supercontinent."

Over the last 100 years, sea levels worldwide have risen by as much as eight inches and that trend is likely to continue due to global climate change. In fact, a recent study said that ocean levels could rise by has much as 6.5 feet by 2100, threatening the way of life for millions of people who live in coastal cities across the world.

Many architectural firms are already taking a proactive approach to this dilemma by rethinking the way we live with water and designing floating infrastructures.

"Floating buildings, roads, green functions, etc., should not be any different than the buildings we are used to nowadays," Ankie Stam, an architect with the Netherlands-based


firm told Discovery News. "The only change is that they are not built on a normal static foundation, but on a floating foundation."

Like his colleagues who have multiple floating projects in the works, Stam says society needs to start redefining the concept of habitation. "When we start today, we should do it slowly and do it in a way where we live with the water instead of fighting against the water," he said. "If we do it well, the way we live, play and go to school shouldn’t change."

So click through and take a tour of some of the structures designed for swamping seas.

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is building Citadel, the world's first floating apartment complex in the Netherlands. It will feature 60 luxury units topped with green roofs. Developers estimate the apartments will be 25 percent more efficient that those on land, as water will be pumped through submerged pipes to cool dwellings.

A floating concrete base will support lightweight apartments wrapped in aluminum. The island will be connected by a bridge to the mainland.

Stam says that rigid public and private perceptions still view floating houses as nothing more than boats but projects like the Citadel are starting to change those viewpoints.

"Economical potential of water locations has the power to eventually adjust existing outdated regulations and requirements in order to bring water based developments to maturity," he said.

Can We Build Underwater Cities?


Waterstudio architects think that by 2050, approximately 70 percent of the world’s population will be living in urbanized centers. Since 90 percent of the world’s largest cities are located on the waterfront, that poses significant infrastructure challenges, especially for those who can’t afford to live in luxury apartments like those in the Citadel.

Therefore, the firm has introduced its City Apps solution for lower income residents. These so-called “wet slums” -- an unfortunate term -- would include adaptable designs that provide food, sanitation, shelter and energy. The first project is slated for Korail Bosti, the biggest slum in Dhaka, Bangladesh, where City Apps will be leased to the community.

"Our approach for City Apps is to ship containers with certain functions and facilities to Korail, building the floating foundation with local materials and assembling it on location," Stam said.

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In Makoko, one of Nigeria’s poorest slums that’s constantly plagued by flooding, architect Kunle Adeyemi of the firm

NLE, which has offices in the Netherlands and Nigeria,

built a solar-powered floating school constructed from local materials and designed to drift on 256 recycled plastic barrels.

The A-frame structure boasts three levels, which provide space for 100 local children. The school also recycles rainwater to operate toilets.

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is a floating hydroponic farming system capable of providing fresh food without taking up valuable real estate on land. It was designed by Innovative Design Engineering to be clustered together along waterways and canals. The self-sustaining chambers can grow local crops and help scale back the reliance on expensive imported food, which has a higher carbon footprint.

Each pod includes a bin for collecting rainwater and a solar panel to maintain a healthy growing environment capable of producing 44 pounds of fruits and vegetables per year.


In light of the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in March, 2011, Japan is searching for alternatives in energy infrastructure. The Japanese government is investing $226 million in a project to build 140 floating wind turbines by 2020. The offshore project should eventually generate 1 gigawatt of electricity, which is the equivalent output of one nuclear reactor.

Anchored to the seabed, the 350-foot-tall turbines will be erected on giant floating platforms. Located 12 miles from the Fukushima reactor, the first windmill was recently completed and is capable of providing enough electricity for 1,700 homes.

Oceans Could Power Our Homes


Japan also built the world's largest floating solar farm -- the Kagoshima Nanatsujima Mega Solar Power Plant -- which began operation last November off the coast of the southwestern island of Kyushu. The 70-megawatt power plant is expected to generate enough electricity to power 22,000 households and reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions by 25,000 tons.

The IHI Corporation and Mizuho Corporate bank teamed up with electronics manufactured Kyocera to develop the $280 million project as part of a national effort to invest in clean and renewable energy in the wake of the Fukushima disaster.


Despite the black eye caused by the Fukishima disaster, Russia is forging ahead to build the world’s first floating nuclear plant by 2019. The Baltiysky Zavod Shipbuilding company and the state-owned nuclear power company Rosenergoatom are collaborating to build the floating Akademik Lomonosov, which will feature two small nuclear KLT-40 naval propulsion reactors. The plant is expected to generate up to 70 megawatts of electricity -- enough to provide 200,000 residents with heat, electricity and desalinated water.

Work on the 472-foot ship began in 2007. Once it’s completed, the Akademik Lomonosov will provide power to the cities of Severodvinski and Sevmash. Instead of using highly enriched uranium, the plant will be outfitted to run on lightly enriched uranium, as to comply with regulations set by the International Atomic Energy Commission to deter fuel from being stolen and used as nuclear weapons.


Designed by Paris-based Sitbon Architectes, Bloom is a futuristic concept of a partially submerged farm devoted to growing phytoplankton, the microscopic marine organisms that play an important role in removing carbon dioxide from the environment.

Floating spherical structures would contain large aquariums that nurture phytoplankton, who would in turn absorb carbon monoxide and release oxygen through photosynthesis. Anchored to the seabed, the Bloom capsules would also filtrate salt water into fresh water, monitor rising sea levels and issue tsunami warnings.

Though still only a concept, Bloom was chosen as one of five finalists in the international ArchitizerA+Awards, in the category Architecture+Weather.


London designer Phil Pauley has spent the last two decades drafting Sub-Biosphere 2, a self-sustaining underwater city designed for "aquanauts, tourism, oceanographic life sciences and long-term human, plant and animal habitation."

The city consists of a Central Support Biome surrounded by eight Living Biomes. The central support manages the biosphere’s life systems, such as fresh air, water, food and electricity, all by its "innovative control of variant atmospheric pressures that occur at depth." A seed bank for cultivating and growing hydroponic crops would provide food for all 100 residents.

The central structure would tower 40 stories above the water, while an additional 20 stories would float below the surface. Surrounding pods would be split in half -- ten stories above and below the water. Anchored to the sea floor, the Sub-Biosphere 2 would comprise a radius of about three football fields.


Dubbed the aquatic version of the International Space Station, the Sea Orbiter -- conceptualized by famed French architect Jacques Rougerie -- is essentially a floating laboratory for studying climate, marine life and natural resources. The 170-foot vessel would utilize both wind and sea currents for propulsion. Two-thirds of the Sea Orbiter would be underwater and be equipped with "a fish-collection system for studies of the pelagic ecosystem, plankton biodiversity and fish stocks."

Although it’s been ten years since the Sea Orbiter was drafted, not to mention 30 years of research, the project still hasn’t come to fruition. However, a recently launched

crowdfunding campaign

aims to jump-start the funding.

Vertical Ship To Explore Ocean Sky to Floor


This self-sustainable ark concept, conceived by Serbians Aleksandar Joksimovic and Jelena Nikolic for the 2012 eVolo Skyscraper Competition, would support life via collected rainwater, renewable energy and terraced fields where crops could be grown. The innovative water structure’s walls would be tall enough to withstand rough seas and tsunamis, while underwater towers would act as counterweights to increase stability.

Solar panels and wind turbines would harvest energy to generate power for the floating islands, while underwater turbines could capture tidal energy. All underwater surfaces would be covered in artificial coral to encourage marine life to thrive.

Each floating island would feature residences, offices, animal preserves and farmland, along with zones to generate energy. Should a severe storm or disaster strike, residents could retreat to air-filled bubbles on the island’s interior. Multiple arks could even be connected via underwater cables.


The Dutch city of Rotterdam wants to be the world capital of carbon dioxide reduction, and it’s off to an ambitious start by building the Floating Pavilion, the first prototype in what’s expected to be a community of floating homes.

Commissioned to a design team from Deltasync and PublicDomain Architects and an initiative of Rotterdam Climate Proof, the three 40-foot-tall hemispheres are constructed from robust anti-corrosive plastic, making them 100 times lighter than glass and an ideal floating material. The mixed-use structure is currently available for exhibitions and events.

The pavilion’s heating and air conditioning operates off of solar energy and surface water systems. The structure also purifies its own water for plumbing and whatever isn’t used can be safely discharged into the harbor, where it’s docked.

By 2040, Rotterdam aims to build 13,000 climate-proof homes, 1,200 of which will be on the water. In the meantime, the city plans to further develop floating urban districts along the waterfront.