The Design of a Desalination Plant in the Bay of Bengal; A Nod To Climate Change: Increasing Public Awareness of the Anthropogenic Threats to Marine Life in the Great Barrier Reef

Gernentz, Stephanie, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Seabrook, Bryn, University of Virginia
Anderson, Eric, University of Virginia

The importance of the human ecological footprint and potential solutions to environmental changes has become a high priority in the last few decades. This portfolio discusses the analysis and results for two research papers which align under the central theme of ocean based environmental issues. Human induced pollution in Chennai, India has contributed to the inability to safely access nearby freshwater sources, leaving the city in frequent water scarcity. A team of four peers designed a desalination plant which uses reverse osmosis to produce potable water from seawater. Furthermore, increased human activity in the Great Barrier Reef has greatly contributed to its immense ecological decline in the last two decades. The STS research paper attempts to answer the question: How can media tactics used to disseminate information about climate change be utilized to educate the public on anthropogenic causes of the wicked problem of the Great Barrier Reef decline? Effectively broadcasting the consequences of the reef’s deterioration is crucial if we want to begin to enact change.

In Chennai, India, a combination of climate change and increased water pollution has led the city to a shortage of 300 million liters per day. The implementation of a proposed RO desalination plant producing 150 MLD of potable water, will reduce the current freshwater deficient in Chennai by 50%. The proposed design is a Reverse Osmosis (RO) Desalination plant that will input 196 million MLD of seawater from India’s Bay of Bengal and perform a separation process to produce two products: 150 MLD of purified freshwater and 1.9 million kg/day of crystallized salt. This desalination plant consists of a twofold pretreatment method, which removes sediment, pollutants, and unwanted metals, and contains a strainer, ultrafiltration unit, and nanofiltration system. The treated seawater then enters the RO process where RO membranes remove the salt content in the water; the resulting freshwater and brine are sent into post-treatment. During the final stage of production, freshwater is injected with chlorine and calcium dicarbonate in order to meet India drinking water standards, and the brine is run through electrodialysis and a crystallizer where NaCl is transformed into a crystalline salt form. The proposed design will have a significantly high positive impact on its community due the plant having a total recovery rate of 77.5% — a production rate over 35% higher than most saltwater desalination plants currently in production.

In addition to water pollution, on the coast of Australia, anthropogenic activities and increased tourism have increased mortality in marine life in the Great Barrier Reef. Though there is significant evidence indicating this occurrence, Great Barrier Reef marine ecosystem decay has been largely obscured by the televised threat of climate change. As the degradation of reef and marine life worsens, it has become crucial for the scientific community to educate the public on anthropogenic issues. This STS paper examines the effectiveness of techniques used to disseminate information about climate change and how these techniques may be utilized to educate the public on anthropogenic causes of the Great Barrier Reef decline. Historical case studies, scientific literature, and statistical reports are reviewed to determine which educational techniques have been most impactful in terms of public sentiment shift and the sociopolitical changes incurred. The decline of the Great Barrier Reef and its future is evaluated under the lenses of the Wicked Problem theory and the Social Construction of Technology, which highlights the importance of addressing the root anthropogenic causes of the reef’s environmental issues, and the necessity for public awareness to promote environmental change. Mass media is analyzed to understand how it maintains a position of scientific educational authority over the public. Results should apprise the scientific community of ways to use mass media platforms to inform the public of human-induced ecosystem decline in the Great Barrier Reef.

The dual focus on saltwater treatment and the absence of public scientific literacy provides two complementary angles to the overarching topic of solutions to ocean based environmental issues. The completion of these papers simultaneously allows for an exchange of knowledge specifically relating to human induced ocean water quality decline. The technical research paper offers a specific solution to a lack of potable water issue in India, and the STS research paper discusses a broader worldwide concern regarding obscured marine decay in the Great Barrier Reef. This portfolio affirms the importance of anthropogenic influence on the environment with tangible evidence for a constructed desalination plant design and a theoretical discussion of public environmental illiteracy.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
Climate Change, Public Scientific Literacy, Wicked Problem, SCOT, Great Barrier Reef, Desalination, Reverse Osmosis

School of Engineering and Applied Science

Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering

Technical Advisor: Eric Anderson

STS Advisor: Bryn Seabrook

Technical Team Members: Toni Ajala, Catriona Corallo, Yonsei Kim

Issued Date: