Floating Fantasy: Can a Seastead be Made Unsinkable?

A floating city — or seastead — is vulnerable to sinking. But floating vessels can be made more or less sinkable, depending upon the design. How close can we come to building an “unsinkable” seastead?


A Chinese government-owned construction company, CCCC, is engaged in the study of building floating cities offshore of large metropolitan areas — to enlarge the living space available.

Large prefab blocks join together to form the base of the 10-square kilometer island, which will be filled with everything you’d expect on land. In theory, residents could spend all of their time in the new city.

“People won’t need to commute for jobs on land,” says Phan. “Work, apartments, entertainment and parks are all provided in the floating island.”

… The whole city is designed to be fairly self-sufficient. Tidal energy will power the island, and farms and hatcheries around the edge will provide food. Trash will be converted into more energy on site. The island will even have its own factory producing some hyper-local goods. _Fastcoexist_via_NBF

Of course no one takes the facade seriously. Hong Kong’s floating cities were not so elegant, but they worked. The reality of any new floating cities offshore from China’s megalopolises will likely be more practical than glamorous.

So, can seasteads be made so that they are almost unsinkable?

Modern ships are highly compartmentalised with air-tight compartments, in an effort to reduce their sinkability. The modern aircraft carrier is perhaps the best example of such a beast, but even aircraft carriers require large flotillas of support ships around them for security and supply.


But even an aircraft carrier can be sunk, using the right missiles or torpedoes. A small nuclear warhead could guarantee the destruction of a modern carrier, but a solid hit with modern conventional weapons can provide deep enough penetration to permanently disable — and even sink — a huge carrier. Multiple hits with conventional weapons might be necessary for the larger carriers.

Large seasteads will be made to be modular as well as compartmental, so that sinking an entire structure of inter-connected compartmentalised modules would be more difficult than sinking a single module — particularly if modules are made so that they can be disconnected in an emergency.

The problem does not seem to be to make the floating city unsinkable — that is essentially impossible unless it is made of a particularly tough Pykrete, or other floating material. (Constructing a seastead of floating materials presents other problems unique to each material, which are outside the scope of this article.) The problem is to make the floating city so difficult to sink that most small to medium governments or agencies would not bother to try — and to do so in an affordable manner that leaves you with a seastead that can be run profitably as an ongoing concern.

We are talking about building a “megastructure,” which at this time is exorbitantly expensive in terms of materials alone, neglecting costs of construction and costs of financing and approval by authorities. Making such a venture affordable will depend upon solving each of the problems in turn.

James Bowery proposes one approach to building megastructures in seawater, using a unique energy source combined with in situ resources available in the air and seawater. Whether or not the idea will work to build “unsinkable” floating modules in practise, it is important as a thought problem.

Molecular nanoassembly is another approach to building modular megastructures. See also Eric Drexler’s “Engines of Creation” at http://e-drexler.com . With molecular nano-assembly, the idea is to take very cheap raw materials and to inexpensively turn them into valuable materials and products. The end-product can be custom-designed and built to molecular levels of detail.

Cheap and reliable megastructures which can be built by small work-groups of moderately intelligent, middle-class individuals, would likely spell the doom of many government monopolies which currently exist. Whether it is best to pick a government apart, monopolistic piece by monopolistic piece — or to effect the transformation in one fell swoop — is a matter of pointless debate, for now. That will not always be the case.

So we see that the question is much larger than: “Can a Seastead be Made Unsinkable?” The smaller question can be adapted to a number of larger problems. This kind of thinking can lead to the building of a number of structures and mega-structures — remaining to be envisioned, designed, and constructed.

Networks of R&D communities (resilient and dangerous communities) are meant to solve questions of this type — among many others.

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7 Responses to Floating Fantasy: Can a Seastead be Made Unsinkable?

  1. Sam says:

    I was going to comment on Atmospheric Vortex Engines for the islands. Oops… you beat me to it. Another interesting concept for islands in the book,
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Millennial_Project:_Colonizing_the_Galaxy_in_Eight_Easy_Steps
    Making a form of concrete electrolytically. Would mesh well with AVE’s.
    I wonder if AVE’s would work on a smaller scale. I believe they say not but it seems some combination of vortex chimney diameter and lower heated area would work. Say forty feet high. It would be really cheap.

  2. Sam says:

    Just found the answer to my question. I had read this before but forgot it. “…in that only the AVE can reach a virtually limitless heat sink of the very low temperatures required for high Carnot efficiency cogeneration…”
    Small ones would not reach high enough.

  3. jabowery says:

    One necessity that may turn into a virtue is that minimization of material in concrete printing is already leading to structures that are inherently compartmentalized to a fine grainMIT is, in fact, reducing the size of these compartments to mimic natural structures such as bone.

    Whether or not concrete printing is used to build the fast doubling time structures I propose depends in large measure on whether the fast doubling time core system can be made to produce concrete printers without slowing the doubling time down to the point that investors, at similar levels of perceived risk, will continue to look to it, rather than elsewhere for optimal perceived risk adjusted net present value.

  4. jabowery says:

    Erratum: “will continue to look to it, rather than elsewhere” should read “will cease to look to it and turn elsewhere”

  5. neilfutureboy says:

    The issue should not be whether it is “unsinkable” but whether it is more or less vulnerable than a conventional city. Any conventional city can be sunk (well ok melted down) by the right missile. Quite a number could be seriously harmed by earthquake or tsunami (paradoxically in deep water a tsunami is only a mound of water – less dangerous to a deep ocean seastead). Remember that Los Angeles is in the middle of a desert that killed the 1st & 2nd explorer parties and would kill its inhabitants again if the water stopped flowing.

    And in extremis, with time even a floating city can be moved. Nobody would build or keep a city sized seastead surrounded on 3 sides by an unstable power like Indonesia – like Singapore.

    • alfin2101 says:

      Right. Keep in mind, however, that floating cities — if done well — are likely to attract more antagonists than most conventional cities. Truly independent floating cities would threaten the modern paradigm of the fixed country club of corrupt nations, as instantiated in the UN and other international structures, forums, and treaties.

      Imagine if such novo city-states were to proliferate out of control! In the minds of the modern tyrants, it’s best to make the idea disappear before it can travel too far.

      Whether the idea can succeed or not has a lot to do with new approaches to both megastructure and nano-assembly. As with anything new and revolutionary, it is best to bring it about as a fait accompli.

  6. EZ says:

    Would the AVEs be sufficient for self-sufficiency of the seasteads?

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