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Kelvin's Dam (theory): Misc



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The comment by Kelvin about "the dam" could explain the Swan station's purpose, as well as some of the past about the DHARMA Initiative.

Theory Details

Many thinkers (including Benjamin Franklin) have proposed that the earth's magnetic field could be harnessed to generate energy. When the DHARMA Initiative scientists built the Swan, they discovered a "geologically unique" location where the earth's magnetic field was unusually intense. They believed that these emanations could be harnessed—"dammed up" like a river—and used to generate unlimited, endlessly renewable energy that could be provided for free to everyone in the world. Once this was achieved, mankind would no longer go to war over limited oil resources. This would have changed one the "factors" in the Valenzetti Equation that had to be "manipulated" in order to prevent the end of the human race. (See entries on the 1975 DHARMA Orientation Film.)

However, the DHARMA scientists didn't realize they were opening a Pandora's Box. The electromagnetic emanations are harmless as long as they are flowing freely, but become dangerous when they are pent up. The scientists failed to anticipate how powerful the magnetic build-up could become. During The Incident, the magnetic field burst through its containment system, causing the "leak" mentioned by Kelvin. As the magnetic energy leaked, it began imploding the station. Several people were injured and/or killed during this event. Indeed, the Blast Door Map implies that five fatalities occurred, and Dr. Marvin Candle may have lost his arm during this event.

As surviving scientists fled to a safe distance, they realized they could only discharge the magnetic field via the one computer in the station that hadn't yet been destroyed—the Apple II terminal underneath the geodesic dome. Once the magnetic field was stabilized, they immediately set to work, hastily erecting the concrete wall in order to seal off the containment system from the rest of the station. As long the field was discharged every 108 minutes, it could be kept at a manageable level. It would affect the sealed-off area, but it would not become powerful enough to begin imploding the rest of the station.

Thus, the DHARMA team's noble experiment had failed. Rather than risk any more casualties, they abandoned the electromagnetic energy project. From then on, they held the electromagnetic tiger by its tail and they couldn't let it go. They feared the effects of the discharge, should the containment system be shut down entirely, but they also feared that the buildup could become powerful enough to suck up everything on The Island, if not the entire world. So, they continued to send personnel to the Swan to push the button every 108 minutes. After The Incident, however, no active research was done there.

The fail-safe was added later, as a safeguard in the event that everyone on The Island was killed. One person was instructed to stay in the Swan at all times, with the lockdown protecting him/her from attack. As the last survivor, he/she was instructed to "blow the dam" as a last resort to prevent future electromagnetic catastrophes. (This information may have been covered in the missing segments of the Orientation Film.)

Now that Desmond has activated the fail-safe, the electromagnetic energy is flowing freely again and is completely harmless. However, the discharge may have "changed" The Island in a way the DHARMA scientists had hoped to avoid.

Ben (aka Henry Gale) believes the Swan Station was "a joke" because he is aware of its history. He believes that it was a colossal folly to tap into the magnetic field in the first place, and he knows that the Station was rendered essentially worthless by The Incident. He believes that it was pointless to keep pushing the button for 24 years when "blowing the dam" would solve the problem much sooner.


  • Seems to satisfactorily explain DHARMA's past on the Island before the incident and the events that would result in the organization's downfall.
  • Swan is the Coptic name for the Egyptian city of Aswan, the site of the modern day Aswan Dam. An appropriate and also cryptic name for the station.


  • Does not explain other aspects of the Initiative, and events occurring around the other stations on the Island.
    • However, perhaps the Initiative is a collection of experiments, rather than merely one. The Hydra, Staff, Flame, Arrow, Pearl and Door (should it exist) are perhaps all concerned with drastically different experiments.
  • Does not explain the Smoke Monster/Security System.
    • The Smoke Monster/Security System isn't anything to do with The Swan as far as we know, in fact they have not even been used in the same context.
  • Does not explain the Numbers.
    • Numbers are explained in the Lost Experience
  • Does not explain why the Numbers can not be entered automatically.
    • Sure it does. Entering numbers requires a person to be there. And they wanted a person there to turn the Fail Safe if necessary.
    • However, it's not unreasonable to think that tampering with the manual interface of the computer (to make it automatic) would interfere with main purpose—to control the electromagnetic energy, and therefore the computer would have to remain manual.
      • Making the procedure manual vs automatic would not effect any additional level of 'control' - all that seemingly needs to be done (entering the same code, at the same exact interval of time, every time) requires very little human intellectual input, further supporting the case for automation
        • It is possible that their motivation in keeping a human in there to do the job would serve the additional purpose of giving them a subject to study from The Pearl, where as we know they then recorded the actions of the inhabitants of The Swan. The notebooks were never read, and discarded, yet they still wanted The Pearl inhabitants to be doing "busy work" so to speak. Perhaps they were being monitored as well, or maybe there was a reason for keeping a few people locked away for a duration of a station shift, doing what they thought to be very important work so as to prevent them from wandering away.
        • The computer is very old and likely custom-built for its purpose. It isn't outside the realm of possibility that anyone that knew how to program the computer is dead or sworn to secrecy. The apparent lack of floppy disks in the station would suggest that the computer must be used "as is" and cannot be reprogrammed. Inputting the numbers may not be a simple security feature (a password), it may in fact be the index reference for a specific program in the computer, used to contain and preserve the anomaly until one or more of the Valenzetti coefficients is changed. Free energy may be a part of an overall plan to save the human race from extinction, but may not be the first step — freeing energy wouldn't magically transform the political, social and industrial infrastructure to be more conducive to long-term human survival.
    • Turning the control of the dam into automatic mode would make the process more dangerous, if the computer fails and there's no one there to repair it or "blow the dam" there would be another incident.
      • If there were no one there to repair it there'd be no-one there to enter numbers.
      • Simple telephone trunk switches had operated more-or-less flawlessly for decades. A simple and thorough computer program, running on stable and reliable hardware can be expected to operate more consistently than any human-operated system, especially under the stressful conditions in the Swan. Keeping a maintenance crew makes sense, but demanding that a human crew alone input the numbers is so far from ideal to be insane.
        • The computer may not be reliable, as it is regularly exposed to the bleed-off from a massive magnetic field.
          • If the computer fails, though, it doesn't matter if someone's there to put the numbers in.
    • There is no reason why the numbers could not be entered automatically. Indeed it was probably intended to function automatically. However at some point the automated functionality was disabled - possibly by the Others / Hostiles - in order to restrict movement from The Swan.
  • Flies in the face of what Sayid identifies as a geothermal generator inside the Swan.
    • How? The attempt to harness energy from the electromagnetic anomaly was a failure, so the station would need to rely on a backup power source. It is unreasonable to assume that the Dharma Initiative built the station intended it to run solely on an especially theoretical form of energy.
  • Doesn't explore the implications of why Eko would so adamantly consider pushing the button "important work," as he was informed by his brother Yemi (who later was revealed to be a manifestation of the island in some manner).
  • Does not explain why the Pearl Station referred to the Swan as a part of a psychological experiment. If no one had to "push the button" at the Swan in the beginning, why would the Pearl be monitoring it?
    • There's nothing to say the Pearl was always monitoring the Swan except for the copyright dates at the end of the films, which could've easily been faked. In the Pearl Orientation Film, Chang looks younger and clearly has use of both of his arms; he appears older in the Swan Orientation Film and his left arm is immobile.
  • Why generate energy from the earth's electro-magnetic field?
    • Magnetic forces don't really work in this fashion
    • Many other easier to access renewable sources, tidal, rivers, the sun, wind etc
    • These haven't been developed for a reason; no-one would make any money by of giving away a eternal source of energy, why would EM be any different?
    • Previous point is way off base, a feasible renewable energy scheme requires sophisticated technology, both on the engineering side (photovoltaics, reliable tidal generators that can handle being submerged indefinitely in the sea, etc) and on the forecasting/assessment side of things. These technologies are just now coming into their own, and we're seeing a boom in renewable energy development. Also, there is plenty of money in it for those involved.
    • Magnetic fields "do no work", you may have heard your physics professor say, and all the ideas that involve generating power via the earth's magnetic field are generally regarded as pseudoscience and/or science fiction (Lost, by the way, is science fiction, so examining the physics of this too closely is possibly a waste of time when people are traveling through time and whatnot).

Points about the Computer could have been animated are forgettting two facts. 1. The fail safe device required a human presence at all times. 2. The purge occured almost 12 years before the hatch was discovered by the 815 survivors. Although Computer automation may have been possible then, computers were no where are as sophisticated as they are now and they may not have trusted one to carry out the task. Disk drives would be pointless to have around a large and powerful magnetic source as they would be wiped of all data, so upgrading the computer might have been impossible as well and all programing would have to be hardwared (burned into the chipset) to prevent them from being deleted.

  • Gale's Point: why not "blow the dam" after all? Whether by reliance on automation or human involvement, the possibility remained that system failure and a following incident could occur through either electronic breakdown or human error. There may of course have been a fear that such a discharge could cause problems with other island-based projects, but since Swan was maintained for at least some period after the Purge, this concern seems less likely. Consider the possibility that the station may in fact have been meant to continue research on the anomaly if by no other means than automated recordings of site phenomena between and during alerts. We know the system was capable of communication with the outside world; why keep that line open if it was not used to transmit data?

This article uses material from the "Kelvin's Dam (theory)" article on the Lostpedia wiki at Wikia and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License.


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