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This UW Spinoff Wants To Make Marine Construction Less Of A Headache For Wildlife

Courtesy of Marine Construction Technologies
Marine Construction Technologies tests its double-wall pile, designed to spare wildlife from construction noise.

A technology that emerged from University of Washington research has the potential to make undersea construction less of a headache for wildlife.

Things that get built in the water, such as bridges or ferry docks, usually sit on piles — tubes driven into the floor of the sea, river or lake by gigantic hammers. That, of course, can get loud.

“It’s loud enough to be harmful to endangered fish, marine mammals and birds,” said Dave Marver, CEO of Marine Construction Technologies.

The potential hazard to wildlife is not only bad for the animals, but it also slows down construction and increases the cost of monitoring and mitigation. That has spawned a number of technologies to dampen the sound, but most make only a marginal difference.

UW researchers, led by mechanical engineer Per Reinhall, tackled the problem backed in part by the Washington Department of Transportation. And they came up with a new invention: a double-wall pile.

This tube-within-a-tube lowers the volume about 20 decibels. The hammer strikes the inner tube, while the outer tube helps shield the sound waves.

“This gets us below the harm threshold for most of these endangered species. That’s why it’s important,” Marver said. His company was spun off to commercialize the technology.

Marver said the double-wall piles will cost more than traditional ones, but they could cut a project’s overall price tag by speeding up the work and reducing the cost of mitigation.

The developers share their latest test results at a Monday colloquium on the UW campus.

Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.