In Spring 2013, the Estuarium at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab (DISL) in Dauphin Island, Ala. plans to unveil a 6,400-gallon shark and ray touch-tank that will be heated and cooled by a geothermal pump.
The Estuarium will house a wide array of sharks and rays to its new geothermally-heated and cooled tank that is currently being constructed outside of the Estuarium at the Sea Lab on Dauphin Island. Senior Aquarist, Brian Jones hopes to have around 20 rays in the tank, and eventually include a couple of smaller sharks. Aquarist, Melissa Torres said the aquarists hope to include Bonnethead sharks, Cownose rays, Atlantic stingrays, Southern stingrays, and Guitarfish. A geothermal heating and cooling system will be used to control the temperature for the sharks and rays that will live in the salt water pool at a comfortable temperature staying close to 70 degrees.
This touch-tank is a new venture for the aquarists at the Estaurium because it is the first outdoor tank at the facility. Senior aquarist Brian Jones does not expect the geothermal pump to negatively affect the temperature moderation of the new tank. Jones said, “All indications are that the equipment should be effective in regulating the temperature of the tank in both summer and winter. The more I learn about these units, the more optimistic I am about their effectiveness.”
The geothermal pump plumbing will be buried in a fresh water aquifer up to 170 feet below ground where the earth is at a constant temperature of around 70 degrees year-round. This pump will circulate the freshwater in a closed circuit to a heat exchanger where the freshwater circuit will travel alongside the closed saltwater circuit. Depending on the temperature of the saltwater in the shark and ray tank, this freshwater circuit will either cool or heat the saltwater. If the saltwater is 100 degrees in the summer, the 70-degree freshwater will cool the saltwater; but if the shark and ray water is 40 degrees in the winter, the freshwater will warm the tank’s saltwater to a more comfortable temperature for the marine life.
The Sea Lab will only need to purchase electricity to run the geothermal pump, which is significantly less expensive than paying to continuously heat and cool 6,400 gallons of water in the scorching Dauphin Island summers and cool winters. Although the initial cost of the pump and the installation process is high, the amount of energy and funds saved in the long run make the geothermal pump a worthwhile investment.
But the real goal of the geothermal pump is not to save DISL money on their electricity bill; the hope is rather to inform the general public of the technology available in alternative energy sources. Dr. John Dindo, the Associate Director of Institutional Advancement at DISL, explained, “As an educational entity, we want to use the best available technology. That’s why we already have solar panels, a permeable parking lot, and soon, geothermal energy.” The Sea Lab will showcase panels with a full display on how the geothermal pump works so Estuarium-visitors can fully understand the process.
The geothermal pump project is being funded by a grant from Lulu’s at Homeport Restaurant, the Hearin-Chandler Foundation, and is being managed by the Dauphin Island Sea Lab Foundation.
Dauphin Island Sea Lab looks forward to furthering its use of alternative energy sources and informing the public on the benefits of employing these methods of generating electricity. For more information on DISL, visits its website at www.disl.org.