Airlift (dredging device)

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Airlift dredging Manga de succion por venturi.jpg
Airlift dredging

An airlift is device based on a pipe, used in nautical archaeology to suck small objects, sand and mud from the sea bed and to transport the resulting debris upwards and away from its source. It is sometimes called a suction dredge. A water dredge or water eductor may be used for the same purpose. [1]

Water eductor

A water eductor or water dredge is an eductor-jet pump-based tool used by underwater archaeologists to remove sediments from an underwater archaeological site. Airlifts may be used for the same purpose.

Typically, the airlift is constructed from a 3-metre to 10 metre long, 10 cm diameter pipe. A controllable compressed air supply vents into the inside, lower end of the pipe (The input end always being the lower end). Compressed air is injected into the pipe in one to three second bursts with an interval long enough to let the resulting bubble to rise to the higher, output end of the pipe. The bubble moves water through the pipe sucking debris from the lower end and depositing it from the upper end of the pipe. Ejected debris can be either cast off (as in simply removing overburden) or collected in a mesh cage for inspection (as more often is the case in nautical archaeology). It is often designed to be hand-operated by a diver. [2]

Overburden rock and subsoil that lies above a mineral deposit such as a coal seam

In mining, overburden is the material that lies above an area that lends itself to economical exploitation, such as the rock, soil, and ecosystem that lies above a coal seam or ore body. Overburden is distinct from tailings, the material that remains after economically valuable components have been extracted from the generally finely milled ore. Overburden is removed during surface mining, but is typically not contaminated with toxic components. Overburden may also be used to restore an exhausted mining site to a semblance of its appearance before mining began.

Underwater diving Descending below the surface of the water to interact with the environment

Underwater diving, as a human activity, is the practice of descending below the water's surface to interact with the environment. Immersion in water and exposure to high ambient pressure have physiological effects that limit the depths and duration possible in ambient pressure diving. Humans are not physiologically and anatomically well adapted to the environmental conditions of diving, and various equipment has been developed to extend the depth and duration of human dives, and allow different types of work to be done.

Airlift pumps are used by water utilities, farmers and others to extract water from deep wells. In such cases the pipes can be 30, 60 or more meters deep underground. Airlift pumps are governed by the physics of two-phase flow.

Airlift pump A pump using density difference due to injected air in the liquid

An airlift pump is a pump that has low suction and moderate discharge of liquid and entrained solids. The pump injects compressed air at the bottom of the discharge pipe which is immersed in the liquid. The compressed air mixes with the liquid causing the air-water mixture to be less dense than the rest of the liquid around it and therefore is displaced upwards through the discharge pipe by the surrounding liquid of higher density. Solids may be entrained in the flow and if small enough to fit through the pipe, will be discharged with the rest of the flow at a shallower depth or above the surface. Airlift pumps are widely used in aquaculture to pump, circulate and aerate water in closed, recirculating systems and ponds. Other applications include dredging, underwater archaeology, salvage operations and collection of scientific specimens.

Two-phase flow

In fluid mechanics, two-phase flow is a flow of gas and liquid — a particular example of multiphase flow. Two-phase flow can occur in various forms, such as flows transitioning from pure liquid to vapor as a result of external heating, separated flows, and dispersed two-phase flows where one phase is present in the form of particles, droplets, or bubbles in a continuous carrier phase.

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Hydropower energy derived from falling or running water

Hydropower or water power is power derived from the energy of falling water or fast running water, which may be harnessed for useful purposes. Since ancient times, hydropower from many kinds of watermills has been used as a renewable energy source for irrigation and the operation of various mechanical devices, such as gristmills, sawmills, textile mills, trip hammers, dock cranes, domestic lifts, and ore mills. A trompe, which produces compressed air from falling water, is sometimes used to power other machinery at a distance.

Pump device that moves fluids (liquids or gases) by mechanical action

A pump is a device that moves fluids, or sometimes slurries, by mechanical action. Pumps can be classified into three major groups according to the method they use to move the fluid: direct lift, displacement, and gravity pumps.

Compressed air is air kept under a pressure that is greater than atmospheric pressure. Compressed air is an important medium for transfer of energy in industrial processes. Compressed air is used for power tools such as air hammers, drills, wrenches and others. Compressed air is used to atomize paint, to operate air cylinders for automation, and can also be used to propel vehicles. Brakes applied by compressed air made large railway trains safer and more efficient to operate. Compressed air brakes are also found on large highway vehicles.


A pumpjack is the overground drive for a reciprocating piston pump in an oil well.

Siphon device

The word siphon is used to refer to a wide variety of devices that involve the flow of liquids through tubes. In a narrower sense, the word refers particularly to a tube in an inverted 'U' shape, which causes a liquid to flow upward, above the surface of a reservoir, with no pump, but powered by the fall of the liquid as it flows down the tube under the pull of gravity, then discharging at a level lower than the surface of the reservoir from which it came.

Compressor Mechanical device that increases the pressure of a gas by reducing its volume

A compressor is a mechanical device that increases the pressure of a gas by reducing its volume. An air compressor is a specific type of gas compressor.

Venturi effect physical effect

The Venturi effect is the reduction in fluid pressure that results when a fluid flows through a constricted section of a pipe. The Venturi effect is named after Giovanni Battista Venturi (1746–1822), an Italian physicist.

Dredging excavation of sediment, usually under water

Dredging is the operation of removing material from one part of the water environment and relocating it to another. In all but a few situations the excavation is undertaken by a specialist floating plant, known as a dredger. Dredging is carried out in many different locations and for many different purposes, but the main objectives are usually to recover material that has some value or use, or to create a greater depth of water.

Gas lift Raising a fluid by introducing bubbles of gas into the outlet tube

Gas lift or bubble pumps use the artificial lift technique of raising a fluid such as water or oil by introducing bubbles of compressed air, water vapor or other vaporous bubbles into the outlet tube. This has the effect of reducing the hydrostatic pressure in the outlet tube vs. the hydrostatic pressure at the inlet side of the tube.

Injector type of pump

A steam injector is typically used to deliver cold water to a boiler against its own pressure using its own live or exhaust steam, replacing any mechanical pump. This was the purpose for which it was originally invented in 1858 by Henri Giffard. Its operation was from the start intriguing since it seemed paradoxical, almost like perpetual motion, but its operation was later explained using thermodynamics. Other types of injector may use other pressurised motive fluids such as air.

Drilling rig

A drilling rig is a machine that creates holes in the earth's subsurface. Drilling rigs can be massive structures housing equipment used to drill water wells, oil wells, or natural gas extraction wells, or they can be small enough to be moved manually by one person and such are called augers. Drilling rigs can sample subsurface mineral deposits, test rock, soil and groundwater physical properties, and also can be used to install sub-surface fabrications, such as underground utilities, instrumentation, tunnels or wells. Drilling rigs can be mobile equipment mounted on trucks, tracks or trailers, or more permanent land or marine-based structures. The term "rig" therefore generally refers to the complex equipment that is used to penetrate the surface of the Earth's crust.

Hand pump manually operated pump

Hand pumps are manually operated pumps; they use human power and mechanical advantage to move fluids or air from one place to another. They are widely used in every country in the world for a variety of industrial, marine, irrigation and leisure activities. There are many different types of hand pump available, mainly operating on a piston, diaphragm or rotary vane principle with a check valve on the entry and exit ports to the chamber operating in opposing directions. Most hand pumps are either piston pumps or plunger pumps, and are positive displacement.


A trompe is a water-powered air compressor, commonly used before the advent of the electric-powered compressor. A trompe is somewhat like an airlift pump working in reverse.

Artificial lift refers to the use of artificial means to increase the flow of liquids, such as crude oil or water, from a production well. Generally this is achieved by the use of a mechanical device inside the well or by decreasing the weight of the hydrostatic column by injecting gas into the liquid some distance down the well. A newer method called Continuous Belt Transportation (CBT) uses an oil absorbing belt to extract from marginal and idle wells. Artificial lift is needed in wells when there is insufficient pressure in the reservoir to lift the produced fluids to the surface, but often used in naturally flowing wells to increase the flow rate above what would flow naturally. The produced fluid can be oil, water or a mix of oil and water, typically mixed with some amount of gas.

Underbalanced drilling, or UBD, is a procedure used to drill oil and gas wells where the pressure in the wellbore is kept lower than the static pressure then the formation being drilled. As the well is being drilled, formation fluid flows into the wellbore and up to the surface. This is the opposite of the usual situation, where the wellbore is kept at a pressure above the formation to prevent formation fluid entering the well. In such a conventional "overbalanced" well, the invasion of fluid is considered a kick, and if the well is not shut-in it can lead to a blowout, a dangerous situation. In underbalanced drilling, however, there is a "rotating head" at the surface - essentially a seal that diverts produced fluids to a separator while allowing the drill string to continue rotating.

Suction excavator type of construction vehicle

A suction excavator or vacuum excavator is a construction vehicle that removes materials from a hole on land, or removes heavy debris on land.

Pulser pump

A pulser pump is a gas lift device that uses gravity to pump water to a higher elevation. It has no moving parts.

Trailing suction hopper dredger

A trailing suction hopper dredger is a ship that has a full sailing capacity used to maintain navigable waterways, deepening the maritime canals that are threatened to become silted, to construct new land elsewhere or to replace sand eroded by storms or wave action on the beaches. This is made possible by large powerful pumps and engines able to suck sand, clay, silt and gravel.


  1. "Air lift dredge" (PDF). University of North Carolina Wilmington. Archived from the original (PDF) on 15 June 2010.
  2. Taylor, Larry "Harris" (1991). "An Air Lift Training Device". Archived from the original on 19 October 2017.