What organisms/natural systems did you learn from and how did what you learned inform your design?
Our design was inspired by several organisms that filter nutrients, hold water, collect sediment and promote plant growth. The salp is a sea creature able to absorb small food particles and nutrients floating in water column. The giant lobelia (Lobelia keneinsis) holds small amounts of water in each of its cup shaped leaves, arranged in a rosette shape. When fallen logs in a douglas fir forest lay perpendicular to the slope, they collect sediment from runoff and provide a location to support healthy plant growth. From these biomimetic lessons, we developed a product that could filter and absorb phosphorus and other nutrients, hold water in multiple small cups, and collect sediment and promote plant growth by orienting our design perpendicular to slopes.
What is the problem you are trying to solve and how is it related to climate change?
Blue-green algae blooms have been occurring in reservoirs, lakes, and oceans at increasing rates around the world. These blooms deplete oxygen in water bodies and can release liver and neurotoxins, as well as negatively impact ecosystems, health, recreation opportunities, and drinking water supplies. In the northeastern United States, a major cause of these blooms is increased frequency and intensity of storms due to climate change. These storms wash nutrients, mainly in the form of fertilizers, into water bodies. Blue-green algae utilize these nutrients, especially phosphorus, to multiply rapidly. Agricultural lands and residential lawns contribute disproportionately to nutrient runoff, due to the fertilizers used on these sites. While there are numerous best-management practices to prevent nutrient runoff from these areas, it will take time and policy changes before these are implemented more widely. To more immediately address this ubiquitous problem, our team set out to create an accessible intervention, inspired by natural systems. Our product functions along lakes, upstream tributaries, and ditches, giving residential owners and farmers a chance to help filter out nutrients before they reach the lake.
What does your design do? How does it address the problem or opportunity you selected
We created the InstaBuff - an easy and instantly effective way to install a planted buffer to protect streams, lakes, and drainage ditches from phosphorus runoff. The InstaBuff rolls out as a complete system for easy installation, making it accessible to busy farmers or landowners with limited gardening knowledge. The bottom layer of the mat is embedded with plant seeds, which will grow and eventually take over as the primary mechanism for runoff reduction and filtration. The middle of the mat contains cupped pouches that slow down and collect water. These pouches are filled with a mixture of absorbent products that remove dissolved phosphorus, as well as other contaminants such as herbicides that may damage plantings. The top layer secures all parts of the mat and helps prevent erosion of phosphorus bound in soils. The InstaBuff reduces nutrient loading, empowering everyone in the watershed to protect water quality, mitigate the impacts of climate change, and prevent blue-green algae blooms.
Elena Juodisius, Caroline Horgan, Liam Donaher, Kimberly Korioth
State University of New York - College of Environmental Science and Forestry