ColomboSky, the Italian startup at the forefront of ocean monitoring for the aquaculture sector, has recently extended the advantages of its satellite-based technology from fish farms to power plants.
The team investigated a recent jellyfish outbreak that affected the Rutenberg power plant in Ashkelon, Israel, by using JellyX. JellyX is an ocean-wide monitoring tool for the detection of jellyfish swarms and the prediction of their drift based on satellite data. With high estimation accuracy of jellyfish abundance, JellyX provides users with the solution for predicting and preventing the economic impacts of jellyfish outbreaks.
By providing access to 20 years of archived satellite data, JellyX can be used to investigate jellyfish outbreaks retroactively. On the 9th of July, when thousands of jellyfish clogged the intake of seawater used by the cooling system, JellyX detected a high risk of jellyfish proliferation (corresponding to >10 individuals/10 m2, shaded in red) along the southern coasts of Israel, from Tel Aviv down to the Egyptian coast, with decreasing risk (medium risk, corresponding to 1-10 ind./m2, shaded in yellow) towards Port Said (Egypt). This result was found consistent with the information reported by the media and with in-situ observations gathered through the Israeli Citizen Science platform meduzot.co.il.
Jellyfish swarms represent a real danger that can disrupt energy production processes for several days. Rutenberg is the second largest thermal power station in Israel in terms of generation capacity. It accounts for about 15% of the Israel Electric Corporation’s total capacity. Massive gelatinous plankton proliferation is known to be a global threat to power plant cooling systems as it can block intake screening equipment leading to reduced water flow, structural failure and power disruption. A 12-hour outage at a 1,000-MW plant can result in over $500 million in lost revenue.
This isn’t the first time that jellyfish cause problems at Ashkelon power station. In July 2019, when Israel saw a massive increase in jellyfish numbers, the animals were reported to have blocked up the Rutenberg station’s operating systems.
This year’s event was probably caused by a massive proliferation of Rhopilema nomadica, the nomad jellyfish, likely intermixed with other jellyfish species. Of indo-pacific origin, R. nomadica probably entered the Mediterranean Sea via the Suez Canal. Its population exploded in the 1980s and this species is now common in the Levant basin, forming frequent summer swarms along the coasts of Israel.
Jellyfish swarms can have far reaching implications for human health and well-being and may indicate changes in the regional ecosystem functioning. Modelling and forecasting jellyfish distribution is challenged by the very different life histories of these animals – gelatinous zooplankton comprehends organisms belonging to very different groups, such as medusae, comb jellies, salps and more – and high uncertainty about their population dynamics. JellyX overtakes this limitation by applying a different approach based on satellite remote sensing and artificial intelligence.
By using JellyX to monitor jellyfish outbreak risk in Ashkelon power plant, the company would have received an automatic alert on the 7th July, two days before the outbreak, and could have assessed the extension of the event, monitoring its drift over time.
JellyX has proved to be a powerful monitoring tool that can effectively help the power industry prevent the risks posed by jellyfish swarms, with benefits for all energy users and the whole community. Moreover, with this part of the Israeli coast representing a popular recreational destination, the forecasting and monitoring capabilities of JellyX could also benefit the tourism industry, preventing events harmful to bathers, ultimately improving the resilience of coastal communities.