The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that killed 230,000 people was one of the deadliest natural disasters ever recorded. So when Zhao Chengweng, 70, still felt compelled to protect people after his retirement from the Chinese police force, designing a tsunami escape pod was the logical next step.
“The Chinese have a saying: ‘Fire and water have no mercy.’ The sudden onset of a flood or tsunami leaves people helpless, and now, with a warming climate, ice caps are melting, and we are set for more frequent seismic tsunamis. When a tsunami strikes, you should first of all try to get as high as you can. Find and enter a log cabin that can float. That way if your family has life jackets or oxygen, you can save yourselves. But if you have a lifeboat like mine – what some people call the “Noah’s Ark” – that would be better still.
“So far, it is just a model. The real thing will be five to eight meters across, to fit five people. It would be kept on a beach, and when there is a tsunami warning, people could climb in and fasten their safety belts. The water will pick it up, and then it will drift. It will contain light, seven days of food and water, radio, GPS, and medicine. In the middle of the ark will be a round table containing a plastic automatic toilet, ready to bag and isolate feces and urine. The ark is red, so that helicopters will be able to find it and winch it to safety†. Crucially, it’s a ball, so it can’t capsize.”
“I wrote to Wen Jiabao, our premier, three times, and said I would like to donate my invention to the country. I received only one reply, a note from the state council that almost made me burst a lung. It said: ‘No one will use your invention. In recent disasters people ran away. So far, so good.’ What does that mean? There have been many disasters in the past few years. If my ark had existed, many people would not be dead‡.
“Lots of great painters were not recognized at first, but later their paintings became valuable. As long as my work is practical, I believe ‘the gold will shine.’ My other seven patents include an earthquake-proof building and a ruler that can tell someone’s age by measuring their feet. Recently, the Japanese tried to copy my ark design. People can lie in their version, but it has no anchor, so waves will make it spin. In rough water, people will get dizzy, and if they have heart problems, they might die. I don’t really care if people steal my designs, though; I just want to see the ark become real as soon as possible.”
“I wrote to Wen Jiabao, our premier, three times, and said I would like to donate my invention to the country. There have been many disasters in the past few years. If my ark had existed, many people would not be dead.”
Zhao Chengweng, 70, Shenyang, China† In case of fire, a special hook on the top of the pod can be attached to airlifting cables for evacuation by helicopter. Zhao Chengweng’s pod is also designed to shelter against earthquakes and avalanches.
‡ Hiromitsu Shinkawa sailed on the roof of his house for two days after the 2011 tsunami swept him away from Fukushima Prefecture, Japan. He was discovered, alive, 16 kilometers from shore, with a note prepared for his parents: “Sorry for dying before you. Please forgive me.”
How to live underwaterClick to enlarge
Most of the Haenyeo fisherwomen of Jeju Island, South Korea, are over 50, but they still regularly dive into freezing waters to harvest large shellfish. Women have higher levels of subcutaneous fat, making them better than men at tolerating cold water.
Algae only need sunlight, water and carbon dioxide to quadruple their mass in one day. Harness them wisely, and they can be food, fuel, fertilizer, or even biodegradable plastic.
Jellyfish thrive in warm, polluted waters. Very low in fat and 80-percent protein, they may well become your new staple seafood. To prepare Japanese-style: dry as quickly as possible to prevent rotting, then chop into strips.
Your pupils naturally dilate when you try to see underwater, but the Moken, an indigenous people from the Burmese archipelago, train theirs to contract instead, letting them focus on the fish they dive to catch.
The 1.5-meter-long Robotic Fish developed by the University of Essex, UK, is designed to swim autonomously to detect pollutants in the sea, then report back using its onboard Wi-Fi.
Zhang Wuyi uses his homemade submarine to harvest sea cucumbers in Wuhan, Hubei, China. The submarine weighs 8 tonnes, can dive to depths of 30 meters, and stay underwater for up to 20 hours.
A quarter of all marine species depend on coral reefs. Unfortunately, 20 percent of the world’s reefs have already been destroyed, and global warming and ocean acidification will wipe out twice as much again by 2040.
Walk on the sea floor, 40 meters down, like the teams of Filipino Pa-aling fishermen who wear homemade plywood flippers and improvised weight belts, and breathe through thin garden hoses attached to a rusty air pump on the surface.