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The Heart of the System – Centrifugal Pumps

Photo of a Fybroc Pump

The Heart of the System – Centrifugal Pumps

Just what does it take to keep 10 million gallons of aquatic animal exhibit water clean, clear and healthy for its inhabitants? Well, I like to refer to it as “the magic that no one knows about,” but if you went behind the scenes within the Life Support Systems department at Georgia Aquarium, the first thing you would see would be a lot of pumps. In fact, Georgia Aquarium has over 400 pumps totaling over 5000 HP. The majority of the pumps are centrifugal, long coupled pumps and range in size from 2 to 100 HP. Often described as the “heart of any aquatic animal life support system”, the pumping systems at Georgia Aquarium move over 250 million gallons of exhibit water combined per day and are absolutely critical in keeping the animals alive at the facility. But the importance here is not just keeping water healthy for the animals that live here but also making sure that it is visually clear for the more than 2 million visitors that visit the Aquarium annually.

How and why are these pumps chosen? The pump selection process for Georgia Aquarium is critical. First and foremost on the list of important criteria is ensuring that nothing about any of the pumps selected for the Aquarium can compromise animal health. Saltwater is incredibly corrosive and heavy metals can be toxic to fish and invertebrates in low concentrations, so special considerations had to be made to ensure that there were no metallic parts submerged within the process stream. In fact, most people don’t realize that all of the Aquarium pump impellers, back plates and volutes are all constructed of fiberglass composite materials. Another very important

Photo of Centrifugal Pump and Motor

factor in the selection process is choosing a pump with outstanding reliability for

this unique process. Picking a durable and maintenance friendly pump is obviously important, however the Aquarium goes one step further to ensure reliability in its pumping system design. This is accomplished by specifying several smaller pumps on a given process, rather than one larger one. This ensures adequate redundancy in case of a pump failure. Also, contributing to reliability are specially designed mechanical seals to tolerate the heavy solids and corrosion that saltwater brings. A pump shaft grounding system is also included to ensure “stray voltage”, which can often be generated from variable frequency drives, stays away from pump and motor bearings. Add to the list a high quality marine epoxy coating an inverter duty totally enclosed fan cooled motor and you have yourself the “Cadillac” of centrifugal pumps.

So why so many pumps? Well, the first and most obvious answer is that Georgia Aquarium is a very large aquarium facility with a great deal of water. There are more than 45 aquatic exhibits at Georgia Aquarium and each have an independent closed loop (not open to any natural water source) filtration system that have an average theoretical water volume turnover of once per hour. The largest exhibit at Georgia Aquarium is the 6.3 million gallon Ocean Voyager, built by the Home Depot, habitat which is home to whale sharks and manta rays and a plethora of aquatic species. As one would imagine, walking into the pump room for Ocean Voyager is like walking into the engine room of the Starship Enterprise. In this 30,000 square foot room alone, there are more than 70 pumps totaling 2600 HP, moving a combined 130,000 gallons of water per minute. Also, similar to any other important water treatment system, there are several different filtration processes at Georgia Aquarium working in tandem to achieve the highly desired water quality and clarity goal. Most common process types are primary filtration loops including sand filters for particulate removal and specialized devices called protein skimmers for targeting dissolved organics. Once through sand and skimming, the water then splits up into several smaller side-streams. These include titanium plate heat exchangers for heating and cooling water and ozone gas contactors for chemical filtration. Inside the heat exchanger is where the exhibit water interfaces with the buildings HVAC system and inside the ozone contactors is where true water disinfection occurs. One very interesting fact, the same chilled and hot water loops used for heating and cooling airspaces within the building are also used to exchange heat for the exhibit water. This makes the building chillers and boilers as critical for animal health as the exhibit water pumps themselves.

Photo of a Row of Water Pumps

Well then, who takes care of all of this equipment? I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the truly dedicated staff of 15 life support operators and two managers that work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to ensure that all of the pumps and other filtration equipment are functioning as they should. This group of operators are like the air traffic controllers for the Aquarium, using highly sophisticated computer control equipment, including camera systems to monitor everything real time. It truly takes a village to run an aquarium, and this team is as important a group as you will find in any village.


Why is all of this so important? Whether you’re a maintenance worker, facility plant manager or pumping equipment vendor, you can appreciate that the pumping equipment that drives critical industry processes deserves extra special attention. In our case, pumps are not just a piece of equipment helping make a product, but instead are an integral part or the “heart” of our aquatic animal life support systems. So, the next time you’re at Georgia Aquarium enjoying its one of a kind animal collection, remember that behind all of the majestic animals and exhibits, the aquarium’s fleet of pumps are hard at work.”

To see more photos, check out our album from the SMRP Meeting Tour on Facebook! 



Eric Hall | Director, Life Support Systems

Georgia Aquarium | Where Imaginations Go To Play

225 Baker Street NW | Atlanta, GA 30313

W 404-581-4315| C 678-873-7401 |

Find Georgia Aquarium on Facebook and Twitter

Also visit Georgia Aquarium’s Marineland Dolphin Adventure | Georgia Aquarium Conservation Field Station


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One response to “The Heart of the System – Centrifugal Pumps”

  1. jresquival says:

    That’s impressive that Georgia Aquarium has over 400 pumps totaling over 5000 HP. I guess it requires a lot of water to keep lots of sea animals healthy. I bet that the heavier creatures require more water pumped to thrive.

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