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Friday, March 11, 2011

Fwd: Tsunami disasters and the cost of making things (Metamodern)

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Date: Fri, Mar 11, 2011 at 5:44 PM
Subject: Tsunami disasters and the cost of making things (Metamodern)

Tsunami disasters and the cost of making things (03/11/11 22:22:17 UTC)

When I wake up to news of a coast smashed by a tsunami, I see yet another sign of our relative material poverty, a sign that our civilization hasn't yet mastered the art of making things.

Japan, by modern standards, is rich, yet costs deterred the construction of deployable barriers able to resist fast-rising sea*. If our civilization had mastered and applied the art of making things (including large, strong, inexpensive, reliable things) the impact of shift in the crust and a surge of the sea could have been slight.

Physics says we can do much better, dropping the cost of making high-performance products close to the cost of supplying simple raw materials, dropping the cost of structures, computers, photovoltaics (and more) by orders of magnitude.

The economics of high-throughput APM will change the economics of disaster preparedness.

Video of surging water and tumbling buildings here.

* To be more concrete, here's an outline of one design for a barrier structure:

Barrier length: The length of the coastline to be protected from a tsunami surge.

Configuration (pre-deployment): A trench in the seabed offshore, a few meters deep and wide, located in water a few tens of meters deep.

Main anchoring structure: Cables stretching a few hundred meters further from shore, then deeply anchored into the seabed.

Configuration (deployed): A buoyant tension structure, restrained by the cables, that (when released) rises with the water level on the seaward side.

I leave the constraints on membrane curvature, tension, and cable geometry, together with float volumes and cable strength, as an exercise for the design-oriented reader; some water flowing over the top is acceptable.

A radical reduction in the cost of manufacturing structures — and of the equipment needed to put them in place — would make an engineering project of this sort practical.

See also: storm surges, New Orleans.


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