Greening the world’s deserts

by Judith Curry

Some interesting thrivability ideas for the world’s deserts.

For context, my interest in transformational ideas emerging from adversity (anti fragility) to support regional thrivability are described in these posts:

Planck Foundation

Last week, Gijs Graafland from the Planck Foundation sent me an email describing his ideas for turning the world’s deserts into productive economies.  Here are excerpts from his email:

Please page quickly through the attachmentDesertCorp-Slide-Presentation (a slide presentation on ‘turning the global deserts into economic productive areas’).

The described model could become a huge (and also long term / sustainable) surge for the economies of Africa and West Asia, as well / thereby for the global economy too.

It’s about turning all the global deserts into high performance economic areas by the use of salt sea/ocean water for irrigation. (mainly based on salt resistant crops: the so called halophyte crops: almost all sweet water demanding crops have a halophyte ‘nephew’)

It’s about dredging a network of salt water rivers into the deserts towards millions new created diversified family farms. (or about installing seawater pipelines, if there are rocky soils and/or landscape elevation that would make salt water rivers impossible)

This model could turn many currently net food importing nations into main food suppliers of the world. (desert soils combined with salt water irrigation are very productive)

(mega space + plenty seawater + sunlight abundance = voluminous agriculture/aquaculture = voluminous food)

A high performance salt water resistant crop like salicornia (its beans has 30% oil and 35% protein) has great potential for desert greening.

Ocean water has already 80% of the nutrients halophyte crops need. As the channels are not that deep the water will get warmer and by that flora and fauna will explode in it. This upcycling makes that number 100%. This is also why most farms in this salt water based artificial mangroves type of delta will combine agriculture with aquaculture: the aqua culture part not only delivers weeds to feed scrimps/fish, the scrimps/fish also enrich the nutrient value of the water for halophyte agriculture use.

More information can be found on http://www.desertcorp.com where you can find also some informational videos on desert greening economy here too.

A must see video is the first one: the CNN broadcast on Carl Hodges’ salt water agriculture/aquaculture projects: practicing all those possibilities.

Salt water based agriculture/aquaculture will change the global landscape and global food/water/energy perspectives.

Burning subsidized fresh/sweet water irrigated corn methanol is not that clever to do. Salicornia can do this biofuel job much better. Exploration of the deserts delivers a) more economy/jobs and b) reduces the demand for subsidies. Also aquaculture of cyanobacteria could deliver massive energy productivity: 75000 liter fuel per acre / per year and additional large protein content (halophytes as biomass deliver around 2500 liter fuel per acre / per year.

The possible (national and international) both monetary based and market based finance models are listed on page 28 in the slide presentation. These finance models make funding/realizing desert exploration simple. Great plans need good models to get realized.

Time to create economies (and thereby huge economic demand) by greening 10% of the global surface and 33% of the global land mass that is desert simple by the use of ocean water irrigation.

Therefore it’s time for a huge global economic surge by desert greening: jobs here and abroad, not a few, but big time. Not by subsidies, but by the market (with the coverage of state export guarantees). So no longer by guns/drones, but by seawater channels/pipes.

Nasser Saidi

I spotted this on twitter from Nasser Saidi (an old friend from my University of Chicago days) Solving the GCC’s Water Crisis.  Excerpts:

Water scarcity is this century’s imminent greatest problem, a clear and present danger: no surprise considering 85 per cent of the world’s population lives in the driest half of the planet. 

In developing countries, unsafe water causes 80 per cent of all illness and disease, and kills more people every year than all forms of violence, including war. Things are set to get worse. Water availability is expected to decrease in most regions while, future global agricultural water consumption alone – needed to feed a global population expected to increase by three billion – is estimated to increase by 19 per cent by 2050. The challenge, simply and starkly, is the sustainability and continuance of the life of animals and humans.

The MENA (Middle East North Africa) region is one of the most water-scarce regions in the world. Although home to 6.3 per cent of the world’s population (and growing), the region has access to only 1.4 per cent of the world’s renewable fresh water (and declining). To make matters worse, the region currently exploits over 75 per cent of its available renewable water resources due to its burgeoning population, increased urbanisation, mispricing of water and rapid economic growth.

Saudi Arabia in an ill-fated drive to increase food production has – over a 15-year period – largely depleted its water aquifer that had taken millions of years to accumulate. It will be forced to stop its wheat production by 2016. Yemen is already a hydrological basket case and Gaza is an ecological disaster.

Artificially cheap water has enabled the development of water-intensive crops in a region that has no natural advantage in producing these, but where governments provide generous subsidies to ensure future food supplies under the aegis of ‘food security’. Global warming will only compound the severity of water scarcity.

In the richer Gulf countries, water scarcity is mostly dealt with through desalination plants – a critical component of the solution for those countries that have access to sea water. GCC countries account for more than 40 per cent of the world’s water desalination capacity, and much of that capacity is fossil-fuel energy intensive. Desalination capacity is estimated to grow from 9.5 billion m3 per year to near double, reaching 18 billion m3 per year by 2016 – with the annual rate of increase expected to be maintained over the next decade.

However, current desalination solutions are costly, energy intensive and lead to environmental degradation. This is in large part due to the technology’s reliance on fossil fuels. In some GCC countries, co-generation power desalting plants (CPDPs) consume more than 50 per cent of total energy consumption with the cost of energy equal to almost 87 per cent of the running cost! There is an imperative requirement to develop less polluting and more energy efficient desalination plants.

The answer is to wed renewable energy and desalination. Saudi Arabia has taken the lead with its announcement to develop and use solar- powered desalination plants with the aim that all desalination of sea water in the country would be done completely by solar energy by 2020. This is a wise strategic choice. Efforts are under way to link the GCC with a water pipeline at a cost of $1 billion, similar to the under construction electricity grid. The GCC has announced plans to invest $300 billion in water projects by 2022 to meet the needs of their growing domestic and expatriate populations.

The World Bank’s ‘Renewable Energy Desalination: An Emerging Solution to Close MENA’s Water Gap’ report correctly proposes that coupling renewable energy sources with desalination could provide a win-win solution to the region’s water woes. Switching to renewables for electricity production yields multiple benefits. The adoption of concentrating solar power (CSP) desalination would bring considerable environmental advantages. An increased share of CSP-RO desalination allied with the more efficient CSP thermal desalination would reduce annual brine production by nearly half (from 240 km3 to 140 km3) as well as greatly reduce CO2 emissions. Increasing renewable energy could cut MENA’s annual CO2 emissions to 265 million tonnes as opposed to the 1,500 million tonnes by 2050 estimated to be produced with continued use of fossil fuels.

JC reflections

I found these two proposals, individually and in combination, to present intriguing ideas for the thrivability of desert regions, particularly those near coasts. The geopotential implications of thrivability in these regions, particularly MENA, are exciting to ponder.

Solar powered desalination seems to me to be a particularly good idea – the solar power can be off grid, and you don’t need a continuous energy supply.  The salt water based agriculture seems like it would be relatively inexpensive and simple to experiment with on small scales in coastal regions.  I look forward to comments from the engineers, economists and ecologists among the Denizens regarding the feasibility of these ideas.    And what kind of weather/climate data or forecast information would be useful in supporting these efforts?

 

239 responses to “Greening the world’s deserts

  1. Even if CO2 is causing very small global temperature increases there is hardly anything we can do about it. China, India and third world countries will not limit their growing greenhouse gas emissions. Many experts believe that there may be net positive benefits to humankind through a small amount of global warming. It is known that vegetation and crops tend to benefit from higher amounts of atmospheric CO2, particularly vegetation which is under temperature or moisture stress. ~William Gray

    • Solar powered desalination seems to me to be a particularly good idea – the solar power can be off grid, and you don’t need a continuous energy supply.

      Coming here six hours after this post was put up, I notice only two occurrences of the word “greenhouse”, above, and a ways below referring to “solar updraft tower[s] (SUT)”.

      But if you want to consider ways of dealing with shortages of fresh water, seawater greenhouses offer a way to conserve water, and use sea-water as a source of what isn’t conserved:

      Put simply, instead of trapping heat, the seawater greenhouse acts as a cool house for growing crops while producing fresh water for irrigation. Ideally sited on flat, arid land close to the sea, seawater is pumped to the greenhouse and piped over honeycomb cardboard pads that provide a large surface area for evaporative cooling.

      The air cools, humidity increases and the now concentrated brine is discharged from the system. This can be used outside to cool evaporative hedges – honeycomb cardboard structures that cool passing air – reviving surrounding agriculture.

      While the fundamental technology is simple, the detail is not. For example, in his Abu Dhabi plant, Paton experimented with different types of sheeting and arrays of pipes to optimise shade for plant growth and also varied ventilation air flows to alter temperatures as required.

      This, in turn, could be combined with “[s]olar powered desalination”, through using solar power to pump the water, as far from the sea as needed. The actual energy required to pump water (sea- or fresh-) along the level is minimal, IIRC.

      Some Solar-powered Desalination Numbers.

      According to Wiki:

      Energy consumption of sea water desalination can be as low as 3 kWh/m^3,[9] including pre-filtering and ancillaries, similar to the energy consumption of existing fresh water supplies transported over large distances,[10] but much higher than local fresh water supplies which use 0.2 kWh/m^3 or less.[11]

      […]

      Under 2 kWh/m^3[14] has been achieved with existing reverse osmosis membrane technology, leaving limited scope for further energy reductions.

      […]

      Supplying all domestic water by sea water desalination would increase US Domestic energy consumption by around 10%, about the amount of energy used by domestic refrigerators[15]

      If we assume 1-axis solar tracking, flat panels can receive the rough equivalent of 10 hours a day, at a cost of under $4.00/watt for the solar array. (Cost of sun-tracking would be extra.)

      An example currently available module is the 1.5MW Oasis, from SunPower, which at $4.00/watt would add up to $6 Million. Hard to believe a mass-produced sun-tracking mechanism would cost more than a tiny fraction of that.

      At 10 Hours/day effective, that would be 15MWHrs/day, divided by 3kWh/M^3 yields 5,000 cubic meters/day. Thus, a $1.5MW solar PV module, costing perhaps $6 Million near-term future, could power purification of 5,000M^3/day.

      Another interesting option is the Floating Desalination Plant, which uses the temperature differential between deep-sea water and surface water to drive distillation. I haven’t been able (yet) to dig out the power requirements, but they’re probably pretty small, considering that the energy for distillation is already present in warm surface water. Only pumping power would be needed, and that could be supplied from solar energy.

      And the intermittency of solar energy could actually be overcome using concrete spheres, if the cost of the pumping system is so high that it needs to be operating full-time for good ROI.

      There’s a good way of storing solar energy for reverse osmosis, too, if needed: according to Wiki

      The membranes used for reverse osmosis have a dense layer in the polymer matrix—either the skin of an asymmetric membrane or an inter facially polymerized layer within a thin-film-composite membrane—where the separation occurs. In most cases, the membrane is designed to allow only water to pass through this dense layer, while preventing the passage of solutes (such as salt ions). This process requires that a high pressure be exerted on the high concentration side of the membrane, usually 2–17 bar (30–250 psi) for fresh and brackish water, and 40–82 bar (600–1200 psi) for seawater, which has around 27 bar (390 psi)[4] natural osmotic pressure that must be overcome.

      1 bar is equivalent to about 10 meters of water column, so the pressures needed for reverse osmosis would be the equivalent of perhaps 400-800 meters. There’s plenty of land available at this height for placing turkey nest dams, which could be pumped by solar energy (or wind power) when available, and run continuously through the osmosis units, allowing a much quicker ROI.

      • Yup. Theoretical minimum is 1 kW-h per cubic meter (metric ton) of water. 3 kW-h per cubic meter for membrane systems using electric pumps.

        In poor areas the 15-45 cents per cubic meter cost of water from powered systems is an impediment. Co-generation systems that use waste heat from a power plant are cheaper.

        Passive solar stills made of indigenous materials are fine for small scale where cost is the primary issue.

      • Theoretical minimum is 1 kW-h per cubic meter (metric ton) of water.

        Actually, the theoretical “27 bar (390 psi)[ref] natural osmotic pressure that must be overcome” works out to about 270 meters. Energy to pump that up would actually be about 3/4 “kW-h per cubic meter (metric ton)”. Plus frictional losses, of course.

        Last night I had the idea of simply placing your osmotic filters 300 meters down in the sea, use local water, and pump the resulting fresh water to the surface. Could cut down significantly on filter costs.

        But I’m still convinced that “the Floating Desalination Plant, which uses the temperature differential between deep-sea water and surface water to drive distillation” is going to simply smash the competition, once they start using solar power for it.

    • Yeah, Saudi Arabia should emphasize fossil fuel power to desalinate water, and pump the excess CO2 directly to the farms as soda water, ready to outgas right where the plants need it. If they were smart enough, which they are not.

  2. Last week, Gijs Graafland from the Planck Foundation sent me an email describing his ideas …
    *****
    We’ll refer to him as Bob from now on.

  3. Judith, because the MSM is traditionally disinclined to feature good news from Israel, you may not be aware that:

    Thanks to funding from Swiss philanthropist Samuel Josefowitz, a very successful new model for desalinating water in poor regions like Africa has been developed in Israel. Josefowitz chose Israel for its expertise in making water solutions that work.

    And the result is a new kind of desert oasis powered by the sun. A full system unit uses solar energy, at a fraction of what’s used in other current models, to power the pumps of a desalination unit that can create clean water as well as wastewater for secondary crops (usually grown as a subsidiary food source for home consumption). Israeli researchers from the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and Central Arava R&D developed the system, which can be custom-engineered for each situation. [my bold -hro]

    [a href=”http://mfa.gov.il/MFA/InnovativeIsrael/Pages/Freshwater-from-the-sun-9-Aug-2012.aspx”>Source]

    • Matthew R Marler

      Hilary Ostrov (aka hro001): [a href=”http://mfa.gov.il/MFA/InnovativeIsrael/Pages/Freshwater-from-the-sun-9-Aug-2012.aspx”>Source]

      thank you for the link.

    • Where does the salt water supply come from, please ?

      [Presumably, a conveniently close ocean]

      • Generally people get the salt water from the 7/10ths of the planet that isn’t land. Since about 1/3 of land is desert a surprisingly high number of people live near the coast.

      • Israel and many desert areas have one.

      • There are also huge underground, natural, reservoirs of fossil, saline water in the many deserts.

      • Probably cheaper to pump it from the ocean, than up from underground. Lots of sunlight for solar power along the way…

        And pumps can be intermittent. And powered by low-voltage CD. No need for storage or inverters.

  4. Eddy Turbulence

    I’m sure the photosynthesis deniers will be along shortly.

  5. Ooops … Sorry, hit send too soon Pls make that Source link:

    [Source]

  6. Global warming will only compound the severity of water scarcity.
    *****
    I thought warmer oceans meant more rain. I’m sure there are regional patterns to take into account. Dr. Curry, should the Middle East expect more or less rain if average global temps increase?

    • “Global warming will only compound the severity of water scarcity”

      http://www.csiro.au/Portals/Media/Deserts-greening-from-rising-CO2.aspx

      Well, CO2 is making the deserts green and they aren’t known for an abundance of water.

      More CO2 should lead to a reduction in irrigation, or more growth with the same water, and either result cuts water consumption.

      It is much more likely (since most areas have more water than a desert) that more CO2 is a solution to water scarcity.

    • Vastly increased populations will compound water scarcity but mention of that only seems to irritate people who consider the word Malthusian to be a dirty one
      Tonyb

      • Vastly increased populations will compound water scarcity issues. No question.

        However the Malthusian catastrophe is in the “Fusion power” class of prediction (50 years ago fusion power would be available 50 years in the future, today it will still be available 50 years in future).

        Food isn’t really a problem – we have so much food we burn it for fuel.

        Water issues in inland areas can usually be solved with civil engineering.
        If sea water is available the question simplifies to implementing the cheapest most efficient way to use heat or electricity to desalinate the water. Since most of the problem is near the equator some simple solutions like running the water through miles of black pipe could provide much of the heat needed for still style solutions with solar providing pump power. Black pipe on an insulated base should to able to heat water to 90°C+ if you use enough length. Asphalt in Virgina in contact with the ground (noninsulated) gets 33°C over ambient according to the Virginia highway department.

      • Why will vastly increased populations compound water scarcity? Is that just an obvious observation? A well known fact? Without calculating it, it seems difficult to know but we waste an enormous amount of water. By that I mean we don’t use gray water for much of anything when we could be using it for a great deal.

      • “Why will vastly increased populations compound water scarcity? Is that just an obvious observation?”

        Yup, Ranks right up there with “my neighbor’s house is beige”.

        However it does provide some useful information because if you know the future number of people, to some degree, and know current water use in gallons per people you can multiply (people cancels and you get water use in gallons) and have a number for planning purposes.

        The comment about waste water is spot on – water usage is going to have to be improved to be more efficient.

    • Global Warming does provide support for more living things and that will require more water. Global Warming will provide more rain and snow which will also provide support for more living things and that will require more water. We are on an upward spiral of better life for more and more people with no limit in sight.
      The warming will stop. Warming has always stopped. Then it always gets colder. That will be a more difficult time.

  7. The approaches discussed make sense if evaluated from a long term theoretical perspective, but in reality they seem to have little practical application for the foreseeable future. The issues today that make implementation impractical are associated with the nature of how the planet is governed and economics.

    There is no single government entity looking out for the betterment of humanity overall over the long term. The planet is governed by nation states with frequently conflicting short term goals.

    Where these types of proposals do seem to make sense to implement today, there are other issues in the individual countries that make implementation unlikely/impossible. Where can such proposals be implemented today where an acceptable return on investment can be found? Pick a country where such proposals would seem to make sense. On closer examination, I believe you will find that local culture, local political issues and economics prevent implementation.

    • Rob, the ME has plenty of oil money. They can afford expensive solar water and power. See, the nation-state concept works. They can make this decision for their country, and spend their money on it. Works for me.

      • Jim
        The ME is not a country. Each of the countries in the region has its own cultural issues. Most of the ME countries do not have much money at all. The ME countries that have the most money have other issues that make this type of investment unpopular.

        Use SA as an example (I happened to have grown up living there). The local populace does not like to work in the type of jobs associated with doing labor. They perfer to be supported by the government. This has caused significant economic issues as the population has grown and demanded ever more welafre for doing little to no work.

        Pick a country and analyze the real situation there and I think you will see what I mean

      • Hi Rob,

        I guess given the huge variation in the ME, each country will have to find a solution that works for it.

      • Jim2

        The populous ME countries certainly do not have lots of money for solar water and power. Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Libya, Algeria, and other countries are mostly rather poor and can not afford expensive infrastructure projects.

        Dubai and Saudi Arabia might be in a different category.

        Tonyb


      • Richest Countries in the Middle East

        ▲ Country GDP per capita
        1. Qatar $103,900
        2. United Arab Emirates $49,800
        3. Kuwait $40,500
        4. Israel $32,800
        5. Saudi Arabia $31,800
        6. Oman $29,600
        7. Bahrain $29,200
        8. Cyprus $27,500
        9. Lebanon $16,000
        10. Iran $13,300

      • Poorest Countries in the Middle East

        ▲ Country GDP per capita
        1. Yemen $2,300
        2. Syria $5,100
        3. Jordan $6,100
        4. Iraq $7,200
        5. Iran $13,300
        6. Lebanon $16,000
        7. Cyprus $27,500
        8. Bahrain $29,200
        9. Oman $29,600
        10. Saudi Arabia $31,800

      • From the article:

        Desalination was a dreamy fiction during the California Water Wars of the early 20th century that inspired the classic 1974 movie “Chinatown.” In the 1980s, however, the process of forcing seawater through reverse osmosis membranes to filter out salt and other impurities became a reliable, even essential, tool in regions of the world desperate for water.

        “I think it will turn out that it is very affordable compared to not having the water here in Southern California, particularly with the drought that we are facing.”

        The process, however, is energy intensive and thus expensive, making it practical only in places where energy is cheap, such as the oil-rich Middle East. But recent technological advances in membrane materials and energy recovery systems have about halved the energy requirements for desalination, giving the once cost-prohibitive technology a fresh appeal in a state gripped with fear that it may be in the early stages of a decades-long mega-drought.

        “I think it will turn out that it is very affordable compared to not having the water here in Southern California, particularly with the drought that we are facing and the fact that the governor has just cut off the flow of water from north to south in the aqueduct, the State Water Project,” Randy Truby, the comptroller for the International Desalination Association, an industry advocate, told NBC News.

        http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/california-drought/parched-california-pours-mega-millions-desalination-tech-n28066

      • Interested Bystander

        Jim2 with 80-85% of California’s developed water going to agriculture, the state has more of a water policy problem more than a water problem. The price farmers pay for water is no where near the cost of providing that water. Taxpayers pick up the slack. As a result, the total water cost (the amount charged to farmers plus what taxpayers pay) exceeds the value of the water of some of the water hungry crops California growers produce. And that is not counting the costs of the other inputs.

        The impact of California’s water policy problem spills (pun intended) over to other states in the region because California uses a significant portion of Colorado river basin water, putting a strain on states from Wyoming to Arizona.

      • According to the Obama Administration (via Joe Biden) Africa is a country. That would make the ME a country as well.

      • I’m pretty sure the speak African in the Austrian part of Africa.
        ========================

      • Well at least those countries HAVE a gdp:

        Central African Republic … -15.40

      • TonyB’

        Before Libya was assisted into chaos, they were managing to build a major water infrastructure.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Man-Made_River

    • Interested Bystander

      “Pick a country where such proposals would seem to make sense. On closer examination, I believe you will find that local culture, local political issues and economics prevent implementation.”

      The need for water can trump many cultural and political issues, and with countries such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Algeria and Libya leading the way we are currently seeing plenty of desalination activity with significant growth forecasted. Use of renewable energy is also projected to see major expansion as an energy source for desalination. [See page 15 of http://www.irena.org/DocumentDownloads/Publications/IRENA-ETSAP%20Tech%20Brief%20I12%20Water-Desalination.pdf%5D.

      Israel is also very active in desalination. This is from a 2010 Israel Desalination Division publication:
      “Three large-scale seawater desalination facilities and some smaller brackish water desalination facilities currently (2010) provide 320 mcm of Israel’s potable water requirements (to all sectors). This volume is equivalent to approximately 42% of the current domestic water requirements.”
      [Source http://www.water.gov.il/hebrew/planning-and-development/desalination/documents/desalination-in-israel.pdf%5D

      • Interested Bystander

        Please remove the %5D at the end of each Web link. Sorry for the problem.

      • The post “Greening the World’s Deserts” is not primarily about desalination of water for human consumption. It is about using sea water to transform deserts into being more productive.

        Yes, desalination can make sense and is funded where it does.

        Overall, the approach of using sea water to Greening the Deserts doesn’t for the reasons described.

      • Well, the problem with trying to green the deserts with salt water comes down to conversion, pumping cost, and the local economy.

        Locations that have very low energy costs and good economies can do more to green deserts particularly if they use brackish water instead of fresh water. Developing a very efficient conversion system makes desalination viable for more locations. But conversion cost + cost of pumping water to the location to determines if desalination is an economically viable solution.

    • Why do you need government at all? If I can sell a community a desalination plant that will provide fresh water what has government got to do with it. Why always with the huge projects that require massive amounts of bureaucracy,corruption and regulations?

      • Matthew R Marler

        Daniel: Why do you need government at all? If I can sell a community a desalination plant that will provide fresh water what has government got to do with it. Why always with the huge projects that require massive amounts of bureaucracy,corruption and regulations?

        basically for the same reasons that governments provide armies, roads, airports, sewage systems and water supplies. You have to evaluate the projects on a case-by-case basis and have the local populace decide which projects are in the public interest. In the industrialized nations, very few large projects are purely governmental or purely private.

      • Daniel

        In most nation states, their government runs the defacto economy. There is frequently no investment made of this type without government concurrance. From a practical perspective, think of the amout of land which would be required for canals etc. for greening a desert. In most countries the government owns the land.

  8. We know how to turn the deserts back 1000 years: abstain from drilling and developing nuclear power and throw more money at the ME.

  9. Disappearing desert
    An ancient landscape in southern Manitoba is disappearing at an alarming rate, threatening a park and an ecosystem.

    http://www.cbc.ca/player/News/TV+Shows/The+National/Environment/ID/2400486561/

    If Doomsday Global Warming ‘believers’ haven’t reached ‘peak stupid’ yet, here is a sign they are very close.

    • Climate change leads to more vegetation? Score 1 in the + column for climate change. Yea! And in the desert, too! Score 2!

    • But some here see the greening of the desert as some sort of problem. Got figure. No matter what happens, ACO2 is bad. More polar ice, less polar ice, more rain, less rain, hotter, colder, cloudier, sunnier – it matters not. We are growing more food today than anytime. The world GDP is growing. There are fewer poor people in the entire world every year. Obama will leave office in a mere couple of years.

      And yet, we can’t be happy because of a couple hundred ppm CO2.

    • It’s like the spoof news story “Arctic paradise turns into tropical wasteland” with a picture of an Alaskan glacier shown next to Gilligan’s Island.

    • “Sigh”, it is just one of those things. Humans were born on a dying planet with life trying to adapt to unusually low CO2.

      The deserts (1/3 of land) appear to be mostly due to low CO2. This means higher CO2 will make them start to disappear.

      Can’t find scholarship on the size of Paleogene deserts (the last time the CO2 level was normal). The Gobi had huge carnivores so it is possible there weren’t any deserts.

      I’m not sure why some people insist starvation levels of CO2 are good, that fertilizer (CO2) doesn’t make plants grow faster, and that the resulting increase in ecosystem productivity is bad. It doesn’t make sense.

      • It wasn’t thought through, and there’s no excuse because the early researchers in GHG expected the warming and the greening to be beneficial. So here we are, stumbling at the end of a mass delusion.
        ==================

      • I looked around and during the Eocene (the pre-Antarctica as south pole period) the land was basically all forests. There is a tactic reference to deserts in the driest area, but it is an assumption, they don’t appear to have actually found any deserts.

        The CO2 level in the Eocene was 800-1200 PPM so if we increase the CO2 level to 800 PPM we could potentially eliminate most of desert areas and turn them into productive land. Saudi Arabia will look strange with oil derricks hidden by tropical rainforest.

      • Humans were born on a dying planet with life trying to adapt to unusually low CO2.

        Nothing “dying” about it. There are dozens of clades that compete quite effectively for CO2, that’s why it’s so low. C4 grasses, for instance…

        The deserts (1/3 of land) appear to be mostly due to low CO2. This means higher CO2 will make them start to disappear.

        What’s wrong with deserts? They’ve got plenty of life. Maybe not the sort you’re used to…

        I’m not sure why some people insist starvation levels of CO2 are good, that fertilizer (CO2) doesn’t make plants grow faster, and that the resulting increase in ecosystem productivity is bad. It doesn’t make sense.

        You could say the same thing about phosphates and (organic) nitrogen:

        Too much nitrogen and phosphorus in the water causes algae to grow faster than ecosystems can handle. Significant increases in algae harm water quality, food resources and habitats, and decrease the oxygen that fish and other aquatic life need to survive. Large growths of algae are called algal blooms and they can severely reduce or eliminate oxygen in the water, leading to illnesses in fish and the death of large numbers of fish. Some algal blooms are harmful to humans because they produce elevated toxins and bacterial growth that can make people sick if they come into contact with polluted water, consume tainted fish or shellfish, or drink contaminated water.

        We haven’t seen the equivalent for CO2.

        Yet.

  10. Even though this isn’t the most efficient solar power design, it also can produce fresh water.
    From the article:

    The solar updraft tower (SUT) is a renewable-energy power plant for generating electricity from solar power. Sunshine heats the air beneath a very wide greenhouse-like roofed collector structure surrounding the central base of a very tall chimney tower. The resulting convection causes a hot air updraft in the tower by the chimney effect. This airflow drives wind turbines placed in the chimney updraft or around the chimney base to produce electricity. Plans for scaled-up versions of demonstration models will allow significant power generation, and may allow development of other applications, such as water extraction or distillation, and agriculture or horticulture.

    As a solar chimney power plant (SCPP) proposal for electrical power generation, commercial investment is discouraged by the high initial cost of building a very large novel structure, and by the risk of investment in a feasible but unproven application of even proven component technology for long-term returns on investment—especially when compared to the proven and demonstrated greater short-term returns on lesser investment in coal-fired or nuclear power plants[citation needed]. Likewise, the benefits of ‘clean’ or solar power technologies are shared, and the widely shared harmful pollution of existing power generation technologies is not applied as a cost for private commercial investment. This is a well-described economic trade-off between private benefit and shared cost, versus shared benefit and private cost.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_updraft_tower

  11. Very interesting, but I’m a lover of potty alternative ideas. I’ve learned to moderate the urges…but if I had global financial bodies with other people’s money and a cheer-squad media encouraging me, it could get grim.

    Even solar and wind power are great in their proper roles, and may be great in new roles. But what a nightmare they have been when pushed as mainstream “solutions” to sate the fetishism and meet the political aspirations of the New Class.

    But, hey, it all sounds interesting, especially the bit where lots more people get to eat better and make money. Love money. Love food even more.

  12. “Salt water based agriculture/aquaculture will change the global landscape”

    Sure will. So you’re pumping gigatons of salt onto dry land. Maybe something will grow for a while. What happens to the salt?

  13. “Salt water based agriculture/aquaculture will change the global landscape”

    Sure will. So you’re pumping gigatons of salt onto dry land. Maybe something will grow for a while. What happens to the salt?

    • Matthew R Marler

      Nick Stokes: Sure will. So you’re pumping gigatons of salt onto dry land. Maybe something will grow for a while. What happens to the salt?

      That problem probably can’t be solved a priori , but will require trial and error in situ. The Manzanar Project (Eritrea) had to solve some unanticipated problems. There’s hardly a new technology you can name that did not encounter problems.

      • > That problem probably can’t be solved a priori , but will require trial and error in situ. [X] had to solve some unanticipated problems. There’s hardly a new [Y] you can name that did not encounter problems.

        This could provide a useful template.

      • Matthew R Marler

        willard(@nevaudit): This could provide a useful template.

        Disputatious though I be, I’ll not dispute that.

      • MRM,
        “had to solve some unanticipated problems”
        It shouldn’t be unanticipated. Soil salinity problems are well known, and there are no easy answers. Agriculture in SW Australia has always struggled with salt that comes as spray on the wind, hundreds of miles inland, and stays for centuries.

      • > Disputatious though I be, I’ll not dispute that.

        I hope not, Matthew, for everything said or written will be used by the people who find it useful.

      • David L. Hagen
        “Is there a way to direct concentrated saline water back to the ocean?”

        No. The idea is to have plants evaporate the water and leave the salt behind. There’s no natural drainage to take the salt away, otherwise you’d use that water for irrigation. The salt sits in the water table and won’t go anywhere.

        No point trying to collect it. Think of the scale of irrigation. Say you are applying 1 m/year. That’s about 35 kg salt/m2/year. 350 tons/hectare. To put that in perspective, it’s about 1000 times the sort of fertilizer application you might use. Transporting fertilizer is expensive enough.

      • Steven,

        De-salting. Sure.

        Irrigating with sea-water is the opposite.

      • Steven,

        De-salting. Sure.

        Irrigating with sea-water is the opposite.

        ######################

        Nicks complaint was that irrigating with sea water would leave salted soil and there was nothing that could be done with salted soil.

        In the literature on irrigating with sea water you will find the same issue raised. And you will find as well people pointing to the permaculture solution developed in Jordan as a possible way of handling the salted soil.
        Of course there are some who doubt the explanation given by the experimenter in Jordan. It’s an open question.

        Nick’s point was that salted soil would be the result and that there was no way to remediate salted soil. Taking a lesson from you ( this one time in band camp ) I point to an instance in which it appears salted soil was remediated.

      • Places like Romney Marsh in Britain have had to deal with salt water incursion for centuries. Those pursuing this subject could do worse than contacting the internal drainage boards of authorities like Romney Marsh who will have enormous expertise in this matter. As will the Dutch of course

        http://www.rmaidb.co.uk/Biodiversity.html

        tonyb

      • Interesting:

        Nick says:

        ==> “Soil salinity problems are well known, and there are no easy answers.”

        Steven says:

        ==> “Nicks complaint was that irrigating with sea water would leave salted soil and there was nothing that could be done with salted soil.

        Has anyone see Brandon and Mosher in the same place at the same time?

      • you are right Joshua, Nick said their were no easy answers.
        mulching is rocket science

      • Glad someone finally caught the collossal mistake in thinking. Salt buildup over time is a problem when ‘freshwater’ is used for irrigation. Eventually has to be abandoned halophytes or no halophytes. Because groundwater always containsmdissolved minerals that become cumulative evaporites. That is starting to happen now in India. Won’t end well. Wrote about it in my ebook Gaias Limits.
        Without some serious desalination, this is a complete non-starter.

      • Thanks Steven –

        Now I understand.

        No easy answers = rocket science.

        Thanks for clearing that up.

      • You harvest the salt and use it. Worst case, you truck it back to the sea, or just let it pile up. If sea water is continuously being pumped through the system, the system will automatically purge itself. Salt comes out the end of the line. It would be a problem if you simply sprayed sea water onto the land, but that’s not how it’s done.

      • You are still missing the point Joshua.

        http://www.hindawi.com/journals/bmri/2014/589341/

      • More.
        but Joshua already decided.

        “Amelioration of saline and sodic soils has been predominantly achieved through the application of chemical amendments. However, amendment costs have increased prohibitively over the past two decades due to competing demands from industry and reductions in government subsidies for their agricultural use in several developing countries [79]. Since climate and cost are two vital factors in reclamation of saline land, hence, cultivation of salt-tolerant species could be an effective way to improve this situation [80]. Recently, a new environmentally safe and clean technique known as phytoremediation has been introduced to address the salinity problem. This includes the introduction of salt (ion) removing species to control salinity and to maintain the sustainability of agricultural fields [11, 12, 81]. Phytoremediation is defined as the use of plants to remove pollutants from the environment and to render them harmless [82]. These plants not only remediate the salt-contaminated soils but also provide food, fodder, fuelwood, and industrial raw material and increase the income of the farmers owning salt-affected lands. Several halophytic plant species have been tried in the past for their possible use in reclamation of salt-affected soils [81, 83–85]. After conducting number of experiments, several researchers found phytoremediation to be an effective amelioration strategy for calcareous saline-sodic and sodic soils with comparable performance against the use of chemical amendments [86–88]. Besides their positive impact on salt-affected soils, the potential use of some halophytes as forage and as oil seed crops has also been described [31]. According to Qadir et al. [79], phytoremediation has been shown to be advantageous in several aspects: (i) no financial outlay to purchase chemical amendments, (ii) accrued financial or other benefits from crops grown during amelioration, (iii) promotion of soil-aggregate stability and creation of macropores that improve soil hydraulic properties and root proliferation, (iv) greater plant-nutrient availability in soil after phytoremediation, (v) more uniform and greater zone of amelioration in terms of soil depth, and (vi) environmental considerations in terms of carbon sequestration in the postamelioration soil.”

      • Interested Bystander

        I enjoyed your post, but at one point you wrote, “However, amendment costs have increased prohibitively over the past two decades due to competing demands from industry and reductions in government subsidies for their agricultural use in several developing countries [79].” We need to keep in mind that government subsidies don’t reduce the costs. They just shift them to the taxpayer. Such shifting of costs can get us into trouble. Just look at California’s water problem, which primarily results from government subsidies to farmers by way of dirt cheap water (pun intended). After all, 80-85 percent of California’s water goes to farming, and much of that farming is the growing of water hog crops like lettuce.

      • Steve –

        I haven’t decided anything. I am merely pointing out the fallacies in your comments.

        But that first link is interesting. A quick perusal returns:

        on the contrary, the phytoremediation by halophyte is more suitable as it can be executed very easily without those problems.

        It also returns:

        Phytoremediation could become a cost-effective and environmentally sound technology for remediation of salt-impacted sites if it is properly developed. There are certain limitations that must be overcome for this plant-based remediation system to come into common usage. Phytoremediation can be time-consuming because it requires several growing seasons to lower the level of contaminants in soil. It is also limited to soil depths that are in the rooting zone. It is necessary to find the plants having capability to remove the maximum quantity of salts by producing higher biomass with some economic importance are mainly selected for phytoremediation and the selected plant species should tolerate high salt concentration. The forthcoming challenge for using halophytes to remediate soil salinity is to develop a plant with diverse salt accumulating capacity in a cost-effective way. Identification of novel genes with high biomass yield characteristics and the subsequent development of transgenic plants with superior remediation features would be crucial for such type of research.

        Hmmmm.

        Anyway, thanks for the link.

      • ==> “You harvest the salt and use it. Worst case, you truck it back to the sea, or just let it pile up. If sea water is continuously being pumped through the system, the system will automatically purge itself. Salt comes out the end of the line. It would be a problem if you simply sprayed sea water onto the land, but that’s not how it’s done.”

        I love “skeptics.” Solving problems is so easy when you only see black and white.

      • fallacies?
        Joshua weirdly redefines words.
        Nick’s argument ” So you’re pumping gigatons of salt onto dry land. Maybe something will grow for a while. What happens to the salt?”
        and then solving the salt problem was not easy.

        1. Mulching is easy.
        2. Halophytes remove salt.

        Not seeing the fallacy.. maybe it was appeal to authority, hmm maybe hasty generalization? one true scotsman? dunno.

        In any case, greening the desert is a laudable goal. Cutting emissions is a laudable goal. I’m skeptical of folks who argue that either of these is too hard to do. One has to discuss particulars.

        At some point you might want to JOIN a conversation rather than destroy them.

      • Matthew R Marler

        Steven Mosher: http://www.hindawi.com/journals/bmri/2014/589341/

        thank you for the link.

        In any case, greening the desert is a laudable goal. Cutting emissions is a laudable goal. I’m skeptical of folks who argue that either of these is too hard to do. One has to discuss particulars.

        Also both require persistent attention through decades, and adaptations to local circumstances. They are only “too hard” to do quickly and uniformly.

      • “Nick’s point was that salted soil would be the result and that there was no way to remediate salted soil. Taking a lesson from you ( this one time in band camp ) I point to an instance in which it appears salted soil was remediated.”

        Even remediation cannot generally be done. But this is an ongoing mass flow. A million firehoses pumping salt.

        350 tons/ha. That’s 35 Megatons/km2. What’s 35 Mton?

        Australia produces 250 Mtons coal/yr. To handle that, we have a network of very expensive railways runnung continuously. 8 sq km irrigation would produce 250 Mtons salt/yr. That’s after it has been gathered and extracted.

      • “That’s 35 Megatons/km2.” Oops – early morning here. 35 ktons/km2. So it would take irrigating 8000 km2 to produce 250 Mtons/yr.

      • Thanks, Nick. I wondered how deep you were irrigating, but not being particularly numerate I let it slide. Nice to know I can catch a couple of orders of magnitude, though.
        ================

      • Heh, you see? It took three.
        ==========

      • Steven,

        I know that’s it’s extremely hard for you to accept this – but you are just plain old wrong on this.

        The techniques you point to are for mediation of salty soils. And they work – but they use freshwater; either through rain-water harvesting or irrigation.

        They do NOT dump sea-water on them.

        That is not de-salting. Mulch your heart out – it’s still the opposite of de-salting.

    • “But sustainability is not a problem limited to irrigation using seawater: in fact, many irrigation projects that use freshwater cannot pass the sustainability test. In arid regions, freshwater irrigation is often practiced in inland basins with restricted drainage, resulting in the build-up of salt in the water tables underneath the fields.”
      http://www.desertcorp.com/documents/Potential-of-Salt-Agriculture-in-Scientific-America.pdf
      I think they’re implying that areas with unrestricted drainage back to the oceans would be best. It would be a saltwater circulation. Like saline.

    • Salt encroachment has been problem for Australian agriculture, with excessive clearing causing the water tables to rise in the lower lying areas. Plantings of salt resistant scrubs and trees is gradually reclaiming some of these areas but there is much more to be done.

      Hence the idea of irrigation with salt water does not give me much joy. It would be preferable if desalination with solar energy could be further developed in the desert areas of the ME and Africa. The desalinated water could then be used for irrigation and the salt byproduct will be useful in many industrial and manufacturing applications.

    • It happens with freshwater irrigation in formerly dry-land farming areas (productive arable land with limited rainfall). Salt can build up to the point that production is curtailed. You have to essentially rinse the soil with sufficient amounts of water to carry the salt away from the upper layers. When they were proposing to irrigate eastern South Dakota with Missouri River reservoir water, it became an issue. Russian German farmers love their soil, and for that, and other reasons, they killed the project: preferring to get along on around 22 inches of precipitation a year.

    • David L. Hagen

      Nick
      I agree that salt buildup is a critical make/break issue.
      Is there a way to direct concentrated saline water back to the ocean?
      Or to collect and turn it into salt?

      • Yes,

        It’s one thing to be salt-tolerant and another to irrigate with sea-water in a high evaporation environment.

      • David L. Hagen

        Mosher’s ref:
        BioMed Research International Volume 2014 (2014), Article ID 589341, 12 pages http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2014/589341 Review Article
        Mirza Hasanuzzaman, et al.
        Potential Use of Halophytes to Remediate Saline Soils

        Salinity is one of the rising problems causing tremendous yield losses in many regions of the world especially in arid and semiarid regions. To maximize crop productivity, these areas should be brought under utilization where there are options for removing salinity or using the salt-tolerant crops. Use of salt-tolerant crops does not remove the salt and hence halophytes that have capacity to accumulate and exclude the salt can be an effective way. Methods for salt removal include agronomic practices or phytoremediation. The first is cost- and labor-intensive and needs some developmental strategies for implication; on the contrary, the phytoremediation by halophyte is more suitable as it can be executed very easily without those problems. Several halophyte species including grasses, shrubs, and trees can remove the salt from different kinds of salt-affected problematic soils through salt excluding, excreting, or accumulating by their morphological, anatomical, physiological adaptation in their organelle level and cellular level. Exploiting halophytes for reducing salinity can be good sources for meeting the basic needs of people in salt-affected areas as well. This review focuses on the special adaptive features of halophytic plants under saline condition and the possible ways to utilize these plants to remediate salinity.

      • David and Mosh,
        That paper describes ideas for the once only removal of salt. You give the land over to some notional halophytes for a few years. Harvest the salt and take it away. Not useful for irrigated cropland.

        But a calc shows the scale of the thing. You’d need to gather that plant material and take it away, to the sea or somewhere. A somewhat similar process is wheat harvesting. In Australia, we get about 2 tons wheat/ha, and gathering and transporting that is a big effort. Irrigating with just 1 m water /yr, means gathering and transporting 350 tons/ha salt. If the plant mass has concentration similar to seawater, that’s a megaton/ha.

    • You sell it to yuppies in the US for $/oz. Green, sustainable, natural sea salt.

  14. If they cut a channel into a desert to feed seawater inland they’ll have to make it very deep. This means the approach is only viable near the coast. A better approach may be to build a shallow salt water polder with a flushing mechanism to allow the tides to keep salinity from increasing to excessive levels.

    The Middle East and North Africa populations can benefit from better family planning. Their oil will run out and they will collapse as it is. But those high population numbers are completely unsustainable. Desalination in such a setting is like giving aspirin to a person suffering from stomach ulcers.

  15. Humans have been around for a long time so unless a new technology is enabling salt water farming has major issues. Not sure what but I bet is something like salt accumulation due to evaporation.

    My daughter did an science project where she titrated varicose concentrations of salt water into radish seeds. IIRC radishes grew fine with consignations less than ½ sea water.

  16. Wow,

    I saw this and just about choked:

    Solar powered desalination seems to me to be a particularly good idea – the solar power can be off grid, and you don’t need a continuous energy supply.

    The costs are prohibitive. You have the full costs of both the desalination plant and the solar power plants that must be paid for by the water users. But water is produced only during sunny periods.

    Advocacy for any such ideas should quote the cost per ML.

    • David L. Hagen

      To compare, IDE Industries demonstrated desalination for $0.585/m3 at 150 Mm3/year.

      • If some of the graphene patents work out, desalination costs will drop even more. That makes hard to know when to pull the trigger on some of these larger projects.

      • David L. Hagen

        Captdallas
        Any quantitative specific energy and cost estimates?

      • David, No, Lockheed Martin has a patent on Perforene Filtration systems for desalanation and there are a few other graphene based purification systems in the works with some smaller scale supposedly in production. It looks like about any reverse osmosis system could be upgraded with graphene membranes.

      • David L. Hagen,

        Thank you for the contracted cost information. Interesting. Pity the Australian capital cities didn’t contact IDE before we built large desalination systems for each capital city – thanks to advice from Climate Commissioner ,Tim Flannery, that our dams would never fill again. “We’ll all be rooned’, said Flannery [or was it Hanrahan?]” :)

        5.9 Energy Supply
        The Electrical Power for the Project will be provided by two (2) redundant sources:
        • A self-generating energy supply system (Independent Power Producer – IPP) to be built on site
        as part of the project and will serve as the main source of energy.
        • 161 KV overhead line from the Israel Electric Company Grid, operable mainly during “Off
        Peak” time.
        The self-generating energy supply system will be fueled by natural gas (expected to be available in 3 – 4
        years). Minimal environmental constrains are expected and lower electricity costs will be achieved, thus
        definitely ensuring a lower water price.

        No mention of solar power there. You’d reckon if anyone could make solar powered desalination economically viable it would be Israel.

        Does any one have contracted costs for a solar desalination plant of equivalent output for comparison with the IDE contracted costs?

    • Peter,
      Wouldn’t it make sense for countries that have a lot of sunshine use their resourse:
      http://earth.rice.edu/mtpe/geo/geosphere/hot/energyfuture/Sunlight.htlm

      Now Juneau Alaska with one week of sunshine is obviously off the list. But Saudi Arabia has no down side to solar since they have close to 100% sunshine. I doubt that solar powered desalination would go down under those circumstances. The same could probably be said for SoCal.

      http://www.nytimes.com/1983/11/01/science/in-saudi-arabia-the-sun-shines-bright-on-solar-power.html

      That was 1983. I don’t know whether or not they have a grid now. Regardless if there is a place for solar powered desalination that would be it. Besides there and Southern California, I would think most drought prone areas would also have a ton of sunshine like North Africa and perhaps Australia. Even if the cost is high it may make sense as it is renewable and costs continue to come down.

      I have a business neighbor that had some panels delivered and they dropped them off with me. He has a second home in Baja Mexico. He told me the panels have really come down in price and they are much better now. He said that he couldn’t use it for his refrigerator before but they make new energy efficient fridges now so he’s 100% solar there now.

      • BTW, just as an aside, my father used to live in the rainforest outside of Woolgoolga Australia and had no power. They used solar power backed up by a generator that kept their batteries juiced in downtimes.

      • Ordvic,

        The only thing that counts is meeting requirements and cost. You need to look at the costs per GL of water supplied. It’s not relevant how much the sun shines. Until you look at the costs, it’s all meaningless.

        Solar PV without storage may give a capacity factor of around 20%. So the capital cost of the solar plant and the desalination plant have to be ammortised over say 20 years and the water it produces (at less than 20% capacity factor) has to earn the income to pay off the capital cost and the operating costs and pay the investors their return on investment.

        It’s far better to run it on fossil fuels or nuclear which can provide power 100% of the time.

        That’s the reality.

      • Thanks for the reply. Yeah I suppose in the Saudis case the cost wouldn’t matter. If Gov Jerry Brown had an inkling it probably wouldn’t matter here either. I understand he built a couple of plants (not solar) last time he was Gov and they were just mothballed never used. Although one is being built in Carlsbad payed for by a bond issue of San Deigo county. They are using some IDE technology in the form of pressure exchangers for intake. There is an article at Climate Progress just goggle: Climate Progress Israel California.

    • Replied below or above

  17. Well, after a bit of discussion, it appears one practical solution for the individual countries that face water scarcity is to institute birth control, as someone suggested earlier.

    • And as I commented, “the greatest impact on reduced family size is from economic growth. As Jane Austen might have said, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a family in possession of a good fortune has fewer children.”” If anti-emissions policies slow growth, they will delay the reduction in family size. Anyone advocating both lower emissions and smaller families is self-contradicting.

      • >Anyone advocating both lower emissions and smaller families is self-contradicting

        That concept my be too hard for linear notion people

  18. Every good economic idea the Left has ever had laid end to end would reach to the government office of free cheese.

  19. “Thus, rather than merely recycling moisture, forests (recovered deserts) actually drive the water cycle on land. Recognition of this role will lead to re-evaluation of the importance of natural forests (recovered deserts) and the need for forest conservation (desert greening) to prevent water scarcity. We urge a major reassessment of the role of forests (desert greening) in atmospheric dynamics.”
    https://judithcurry.com/2014/04/15/forest-climate-and-condensation/
    The biotic pump idea is interesting. It deals with the margins same as sea ice. The questions is, does this piece of land have a material amount of vegetation on it? Advancing vegetation promotes greater rainfall with the plants serving as a kind of bridge from humid oceans to the dry deserts. Think of it as a network of plants reaching into the desert, seeming to send information there. Rain. As our West seems to be out of water, I think it’s worth an attempt there. I think Mosher said words to the effect of, What do the conservatives have to contribute besides saying no? As some of has been watching, “The Roosevelts” perhaps it’s time to think on the scale of the Panana Canal.

    • Correction:
      As some of us have been watching…

    • Seems that Southern Arizona would be a good place to try this out, using water from the Gulf of California. Yuma has an elevation of 138 feet. Midwest farmers lift water from wells deeper than 138 feet to irrigate their fields. We could develop this kind of of farming which is something we seem to be good at, and later exporting our expertise.

  20. Likely enough future halophytes will be ‘genetically modified ‘. The European Union has been in thrall to opponents of GMO organisms/crops for a long time. They are still at loggerheads with the USA about trade in such products.

    As things stand, you are more likely to see the devil skiing in the Sahara than Greenpeace accepting GM plants that actually green the Sahara.

  21. One idea is to contain the gas that is burned off in flairs to power desalination plants in places like Saudi Arabia and other oil rich water poor places.

    The Saudis are burning off waste gas so the price of water must be lower than the price to capture and use waste gas.

    • Flairs are SO 1960s!

    • Not true in most cases. They use the gas to power flash evaporator desalination, and are building petrochemical capacity. I was just there a cole of years ago on a US delegation led by former Sec Home land Security Tom Ridge to discuss the infra structure for 6 complete new cities they are building from scratch , all dependent on nat gas.

      • Rud,
        I also worked there for five years during a massive gas gathering program for associated gas from oil production. Four major gas gathering and collecting plants purify the thae gas removing sulfer, light iquids and pipe pipe it to manufact\ruing, desalination and energy electrical plants. A long time ago the flares of saudi were visible from space, but now the flares from the gas oil separating plants, GOSPs, are gone.
        Scott

  22. Matthew R Marler

    note on the Eritrean Mangroves: http://learningenglish.voanews.com/content/gordon-sato-mangrove-poverty-manzanar/1562373.html

    Besides the general idea, brackish water irrigation of salt-tolerant species, success requires dedication and alertness to local conditions. Sato found in Eritrea that lack of iron inhibited growth, so he found a cheap and easy method to enrich the soil in iron — planting cans with the trees.

    What used to be the Colorado River Delta still floods daily in the the tides, many square miles of nearly flat land. I have thought that would be a good place to start a new halophyte restoration project.

  23. Matthew R Marler

    Peter Lang: quoting Judith Curry: Solar powered desalination seems to me to be a particularly good idea – the solar power can be off grid, and you don’t need a continuous energy supply.

    Peter Lang’s response:The costs are prohibitive. You have the full costs of both the desalination plant and the solar power plants that must be paid for by the water users. But water is produced only during sunny periods.

    Clearly, solar powered desalination only makes sense in places where other sources of power (coal, diesel fuel, natural gas, etc) are intermittent, expensive, or both. At present, that may not apply to more than a billion people, but as the costs of solar decline, and fossil fuels increase in price, it may become a more prevalent alternative.

    If I remember correctly, one of the nuclear power plants near the coast of Southern India uses the heat from the cooling water to power desalination. A similar idea is used at a natural gas power plant in Carlsbad, CA. Clearly (!) where there are other reliable power supplies, solar-powered desalination is second or third rate.

    • David L. Hagen

      Re “The costs are prohibitive.”
      Only until the costs of solar are driven down below the cost of fossil energy.

  24. Our first priority must be to restore integrity to science by following the basic scientific principles in publicly-financed science.

  25. Hi Judy

    On “Greening the world’s deserts” see our papers

    Pielke, R.A., T.J. Lee, E.P. Glenn, and R. Avissar, 1993: Influence of halophyte plantings in arid regions on local atmosphere structure. Int. J. Biometeorology, 37, 96-100. http://pielkeclimatesci.wordpress.com/files/2009/09/r-159.pdf

    Glenn, E.P., C.N. Hodges, H. Lieth, R.A. Pielke, and L. Pitelka, 1992: Growing halophytes to remove carbon from the atmosphere. Invited contribution to Environment, 34, 40-43. http://pielkeclimatesci.wordpress.com/files/2009/09/r-149.pdf

    Segal, M., Y. Mahrer, and R.A. Pielke, 1983: A study of meteorological patterns associated with a lake confined by mountains – the Dead Sea case. Quart. J. Roy. Meteor. Soc., 109, 549-564.http://pielkeclimatesci.files.wordpress.com/2009/09/r-35.pdf

    The abstract of the first paper reads

    “The practicality of modifying climate in arid regions through irrigation has up to now been constrained by the availability of fresh water with which to grow crops. The present results suggest a new paradigm: the use of salt water to grow halophyte crops and modify local climate along coastal deserts and other arid regions where saline water supplies are available.”

    Roger

  26. See also

    Segal, M., R.A. Pielke, and Y. Mahrer, 1983: On climatic changes due to a deliberate flooding of the Qattara depression (Egypt). Climatic Change, 5, 73-83. http://pielkeclimatesci.files.wordpress.com/2009/09/r-36.pdf

    • Thanks I was struggling to remember the name of that depression.

      • Desert basins produce dust which fertilizes ecosystems thousands of miles away.
        ===========

      • Yep, Kim, every now and then Australia sends the outback to the surf, typically by means of spring westerlies in El Nino conditions (as in 2009). You need plenty of precip around Lake Eyre etc then some drought to get the silt right.

        When it happens, it’s now described as an extreme event or disaster, due to farming, CO2, whatever. You know the script: “While one cannot say that any one event is due to AGW, yet scientists say…” Yeah, that script.

        In fact that dust is iron-rich silt, and is some sort of gigantic ocean fertiliser application, switched on by naughty Nino. The poor scamp won’t expect any thanks, and won’t get any.

  27. Well, darn. I knew if I googled enough I would find the solution to save the world. /sarc
    From the article:

    The farming community might soon be home to a massive solar wind tower – the sheer enormity of which would make it a new Arizona landmark.

    “This is going to be something big. I don’t think people realize the magnitude until it happens,” San Luis Mayor Gerardo Sanchez said.

    At 2,235 feet tall and 1,200 feet at its base, the tower would be the second-tallest structure in the world, behind only to the Burj Khalifa skyscraper in Dubai. It would sit directly across the border with Mexico and cover 100 acres of desert.

    The gigantic silo is projected to produce as much clean energy a year as the Hoover Dam using hybrid solar and wind technology, according to Chief Executive Officer Ron Pickett of Solar Wind Energy Tower, Inc.

    “The tower is taller and wider than it needs to be to make money, but it’s as tall and as wide as we predict it needs to be to have a 2-to-1 cash flow to support the financing of the first tower,” Pickett said by telephone.

    http://www.kpho.com/story/26135572/massive-tower-of-power-planned-for-san-luis

  28. If elevated CO2 causes the water use of individual leaves to drop, plants in arid environments will respond by increasing their total numbers of leaves. These changes in leaf cover can be detected by satellite, particularly in deserts and savannas where the cover is less complete than in wet locations, according to Dr Donohue.

    “On the face of it, elevated CO2 boosting the foliage in dry country is good news and could assist forestry and agriculture in such areas; however there will be secondary effects that are likely to influence water availability, the carbon cycle, fire regimes and biodiversity, for example,” Dr Donohue said.

    Satellite data shows the per cent amount that foliage cover has changed around the world from 1982 to 2010.

    The greening of the deserts is a reason for mitigation and not for CO2 complacency. Changes are being made in global spanning, complex, interacting systems with little understanding of consequences.

    • We’ve never understood in detail the way the environment works, and it will be a long time before we do. We need to do what we have to in order to survive, however.

    • In a July 05, WUWT article titled “Revenge of the Climate Reparations,” Willis Eschenbach presented a map of “Net CO2 FLUX chart from IBUKI satellite CO2 data.” I have wondered whether there is any correlation between Willis’s chart and this “Satellite data [which] shows the per cent amount that foliage cover has changed around the world from 1982 to 2010” and is available from CSIRO.

    • Quote: “Changes are being made in global spanning, complex, interacting systems with little understanding of consequences.”

      Swedes discover rare Antarctic fossils
      Researchers believe the animals lived on the ice-covered continent between 65 and 35 million years ago, when the climate was much warmer than it is today.

      “This exciting discovery pushes forward our knowledge about the previous inhabitants of the Antarctic,” said Mörs.
      http://m.thelocal.se//20140916/swedes-discover-rare-antarctic-fossil

      One thing that can be safely said is ‘understood’:
      It has happened before, irrespective of ‘mitigated’ carbon(sic).

      • The greening of the deserts is a reason for mitigation and not for CO2 complacency. What I actually said rather than ‘mitigated’ carbon (sic).

        The Antarctic cooled because of the separation of South America and the Antarctic Peninsula 34 million years ago. It certainly had not happened before.

        This sort of half assed nonsense is not all that interesting, useful or informative. It is error chasing ignorance with a sprinkling of calumny.

      • One thing that can be safely said is ‘understood’:
        It has happened before, irrespective of ‘mitigated’ carbon(sic).

        Correct. This is only the third time in half a billion years the world has had ice capped poles for millions of years (AR$, WG1, Chapter 6, Figure 6.1). Looking at the big picture, this is a cold house period and a damned cold period for mother Earth. So, it’s hard to accept the scaremongering about catastrophic global warming.

    • Quote: “The greening of the deserts is a reason for mitigation and not for CO2 complacency. What I actually said rather than ‘mitigated’ carbon (sic).”

      Rob, I am well aware of what you wrote.
      Now that we have a mutual understanding of the difference, you, like me, have our work cut out to fight the mis-information offered by some who wish mitigation, like carbon(sic) taxes.

      Quote: “The Antarctic cooled because of the separation of South America and the Antarctic Peninsula 34 million years ago.
      It certainly had not happened before.

      This sort of half assed nonsense is not all that interesting, useful or informative. It is error chasing ignorance with a sprinkling of calumny.”

      Which part of “when the climate was much warmer than it is today” don’t you understand?

    • David L. Hagen

      An excellent example of the benefits of utilizing stored bio solar energy (aka coal) to restore plant productivity and return us towards more balmy bountiful conditions like the Garden of Eden. i.e. The large numbers of elderly moving from New England to retire in Florida is an example of why most people delight is warmer weather.

      • One problem at a time David.

        “On the face of it, elevated CO2 boosting the foliage in dry country is good news and could assist forestry and agriculture in such areas; however there will be secondary effects that are likely to influence water availability, the carbon cycle, fire regimes and biodiversity, for example,” Dr Donohue said.

        This seems pretty obvious but the consequences in a complex planet spanning system are indeterminate. I am not one to invent narratives on the basis of inadequate information but perhaps we should have a list of pros and cons. Shuffleboard in Florida on one hand and changes in the terrestrial hydrological cycle on the other?

      • From the article:

        Now there is even more evidence. From From Technische Universität München: Study highlights forest growth trends from 1870 to the present- Global change: Trees continue to grow at a faster rate

        “…scientists are putting the growth acceleration down to rising temperatures and the extended growing season. Carbon dioxide (CO2) and nitrogen are other factors contributing to the faster growth.”

        Cynthia Schäfer and Eric Thurm, doctoral candidates at the Chair for Forest Growth and Yield, take a growth ring sample from an experimental plot tree. (Photo: L. Steinacker / TUM)
        17.09.2014, Research news

        Trees have been growing significantly faster since the 1960s. The typical development phases of trees and stands have barely changed, but they have accelerated – by as much as 70 percent. This was the outcome of a study carried out by scientists from Technische Universität München (TUM) based on long-term data from experimental forest plots that have been continuously observed since 1870. Their findings were published recently in Nature Communications.

        Three decades ago, “forest dieback” was a hot topic, with the very survival of large forest ecosystems seemingly in doubt. But instead of a collapse, the latest studies indicate that forests have actually been growing at a faster rate. Whether, how and why forest stands have changed their growth patterns over the last century are still hotly disputed questions.

        http://wattsupwiththat.com/2014/09/17/another-benefit-of-climate-change-and-increased-co2-trees-continue-to-grow-at-a-faster-rate/

      • From the article.

        On the face of it, elevated CO2 boosting the foliage in dry country is good news and could assist forestry and agriculture in such areas; however there will be secondary effects that are likely to influence water availability, the carbon cycle, fire regimes and biodiversity, for example,” Dr Donohue said.

        Yes – the deserts are greening and trees are growing. No – it is not clear that it is an unmitigated benefit.

      • I can think of some benefits.
        1. More trees mean more oxygen.
        2. If you are worried about AGW, then more trees mean more carbon is being sequestered.
        3. Trees frequently emit terpenes which serve as nucleation agents for cloud, which at times produce rain.
        4. More places for animals to live.
        5. More shade – natural cooling.
        6. … I’m tiring of this …

      • Less water being transpired – drying microenvironments – dessicating soils – loss of soil nutrients – increased fire risk – loss of understory – etc. It is easy enough to pull any silly narrative out of arse.

        The point really seems uncertainty rather than certainty.

      • Rob Ellison
        CO2Science.org catalogs Terrestrial Plant Growth Response to Very High CO2 Concentrations

        e.g. Some plants REALLY love CO2

        The three Japanese researchers report that plant dry weight increased monotonically with each increase in CO2, to where the CO2-induced increase in plant shoot dry weight in the 10,000 ppm environment was 274% greater than that in ambient air at 45°C and 286% greater than that in ambient air at 60°C, while plant root dry weight in the 10,000 ppm environment was 5,533% greater than that in ambient air at 45°C and 4,960% greater than that in ambient air at 60°C.

        Note also that the Sahel is greening

      • I don’t know, Rob. More trees seems like a good thing, but I guess we won’t know until the government funds a few academics to study it, eh?

      • On the face of it, elevated CO2 boosting the foliage in dry country is good news and could assist forestry and agriculture in such areas; however there will be secondary effects that are likely to influence water availability, the carbon cycle, fire regimes and biodiversity, for example,” Dr Donohue said.

        CO2 is good seems to be a sceptic meme. It is an argument from ignorance. The problem is that we are making changes to global systems with little idea of consequences.

      • Matthew R Marler

        Rob Ellison: CO2 is good seems to be a sceptic meme. It is an argument from ignorance.

        Why do you call it an argument from ignorance when evidence supports the idea that it is beneficial?

      • I think the jury is out on changing the terrestrial hydrological cycle – and the flow on effects from that.

      • Why do you call it an argument from ignorance when evidence supports the idea that it is beneficial?

        Beneficial to weeds, too.

      • David L. Hagen

        Rob Ellison
        Re: “CO2 is good seems to be a sceptic meme. It is an argument from ignorance. ”
        By the “authority” of the IPCC itself, increasing CO2 and global warming will benefit the world until 2070 – assuming majority anthropogenic global warming! Now that Ross McKitrick (2014) has shown two decades of no warming, the IPCC’s Global Climate Models are exposed as under estimating natural variations – based on the IPCC’s own “argument from ignorance”. Logically then, AGW is likely not as severe and CO2 with warming is more likely to benefit till some 2100.

      • Matthew R Marler

        Rob Ellison: I think the jury is out on changing the terrestrial hydrological cycle – and the flow on effects from that.

        That does not support your claim about an argument from ignorance.

        And you ignore the evidence that increased CO2 promotes plant growth.

      • My original link showed global deserts greening – and we are making changes with little idea of outcomes – hence ignorance.

      • Rob Ellison
        Re: “we are making changes with little idea of outcomes”
        “We” know that warmer periods like the Medieval Warm Period, Roman Warm Period, Minoan Warm Period and earlier warm periods with higher / high CO2 were more productive agriculturally and biomass.
        We know that the colder periods caused great hardship with famines such as during the Little Ice Age when Finland lost 1/3rd of its population during a 3 year cold snap.
        See Carbon Dioxide and Earth’s Future: Pursuing the Prudent Path
        Consequently, we generally know thus far safer to have warmer periods with higher CO2 than colder periods like the impending next glaciation.
        So generally go with warming and higher CO2 that what we know is more beneficial to humanity, then colder periods with CO2 starvation that cause greater famines and deaths!

      • How they got this so completely backwards continues to amaze me. Oops, ‘they’ sounds conspiratorial. That’s why I call this whole catastrophic meme the grandest example yet of an Extraordinary Popular Delusion and a Madness of the Crowd.

        It’s opera, the works. And it’s grand, tragic.
        ================

    • The greening of the deserts is a reason for mitigation and not for CO2 complacency. Changes are being made in global spanning, complex, interacting systems with little understanding of consequences.

      If plants were dying, wouldn’t you say the same thing? It seems to me your view is that change is bad. Glass half empty, according to how tall you think the glass is. What if the glass is much taller, and there is huge opportunity to fill it?

      Whatever regarding Judith’s concept of solar powered desalination plants. Let’s figure out how to make graphene work well, and pump the ocean water all over the planet’s deserts. Or GMO modified crops that can handle salt, though it seems to me it would accumulate.

  29. Pumping water is quite expensive – usually not feasible for more than a hundred kilometres maximum. It some places it might work. Perhaps by pumping water into the immense – but ephemeral – drainage network feeding Australia’s iconic inland sea – Kati Thanda. This would likely transform some of our most treasured landscapes – and poison aquifers that are the lifeblood of inland Australia. And – really – countering the salinization of inland landscapes – that arose from tree clearing – is one of the problems de jour.

    There is salty groundwater that comes to the surface in association with fracking – and this is desalinated and the water supplied to agriculture. It is widespread but not in great volume and leaves behind hypersaline drying beds and a legacy of radioactive salt. Desalination requires a source of non-potable water, quite sophisticated infrastructure and a way of dealing with the residue. I have at least conceptually designed an urban water supply involving acid mine drainage, lime precipitation, ion exchange and reverse osmosis. It was cheaper than pumping water 30 kilometres. Unlikely to be any but a solution in specific circumstances and not likely to be ever a viable source of water for irrigation.

    There is clearly a role for technology in water supply – horses for courses – but there are more fundamental objectives. The primary one is in the protection of water supplies through effective sanitation. This is not necessarily expensive or technologically sophisticated.

    If we have some spare resources it should go to this. The other primary goal is to retain as much water in the landscape as possible through vegetation, livestock and soil carbon management.

  30. Carl Hodges:
    http://articles.latimes.com/2008/jul/10/business/fi-seafarm10
    “That’s because salicornia has another nifty quality: It can be converted into biofuel. And, unlike grain-based ethanol, it doesn’t need rain or prime farmland, and it doesn’t distort global food markets. NASA has estimated that halophytes planted over an area the size of the Sahara Desert could supply more than 90% of the world’s energy needs.”
    Seawater in, biofuel out,

  31. From the article:

    Replicating Ecosystems By effectively replicating an ecosystem, an Integrated Seawater Agriculture System™ allows the production of mass volumes of biofuels and food, without using freshwater, chemical fertilizers or a single hectare of arable land. The science underlying the concept of ISAS™ is unequivocally proven, substantiated and well documented through research and development and operational experience at the Environmental Research Laboratory, University of Arizona and in projects in Eritrea and Mexico.

    Global Seawater Inc in Mexico

    Watch ISAS™ in action in Eritrea

    A Sustainable Solution Moreover, the technologies underlying ISAS™ have been proven to be sustainable for over thirty years in Mexico and are endorsed by leading scientific authorities, including Dr. Nina Fedoroff, President-Elect of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and former Science & Technology Advisor to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

    Abundant Resources Many developing countries often have an abundance of natural resources which are either underutilized or unutilized. ISAS™ is intelligently designed to productively combine many of these resources and create wealth. The key components of an ISAS™ project are:

    Seawater: manmade seawater rivers enable untreated seawater to flow from the sea into the project area to be pumped onto the land for agricultural irrigation and other applications;

    Land: large tracts of low lying uninhabited, arid desert land (e.g. 50,000 ha of non-agricultural grade land) located inland, which will become productive through the farming of halophytes (salt tolerant plants) and practicing aquaculture; and

    Labor: a sizable workforce of skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled labor required to operate the project, which in turn will generate considerable infrastructure and support services needs.
    Integrated Operations A series of manmade seawater rivers and canals are used for aquaculture operations, the effluent from which is then used as a natural fertilizer for halophyte-based (i.e. naturally salt tolerant plants such as salicornia and mangroves) agriculture operations. Collectively, these closed-loop, interdependent aquaculture and agriculture operations yield biofuels (liquid and solid), seafood (including fish and shrimp) and a host of co-products including biomass, protein meal, animal feed and salt.

    http://www.newnileco.com/en/understanding-isas.html

    • So, according to this article, using sea water in the desert is really old hat. A proven concept, already been done. Next.

  32. Here’s a twist on this idea: Spray seawater in fine droplets in selected areas of the desert far from underground freshwater sources.

    Instead of accumulating, the water will evaporate and eventually return to the surface elsewhere in the form of rain or snow, hopefully alleviating drought for a few folks. The added bonus is the carbon dioxide that will be removed from the atmosphere from the resulting increase in vegetation.

    The salt would need to remain in the desert and be prevented from returning to the ocean.

    As the salt accumulates over time, the average freezing point of the ocean would rise a little, allowing more ice to form at the polar icecaps.

    As mentioned above, pumping water is an expensive proposition, but compared to the economic wreckage that could result from curtailing the use of fossil fuels too quickly, it might be the deal of the century.

  33. I don’t get it. It seems to me salt will accumulate. I live in the bay area, and they used to have salt ponds: dry out sea water and salt is left. Do the plants suck the salt out?

    • It’s a good question. Where does the water evaporate from? I suppose we have sand, that may resist surface pooling. They’ve talked about the root zone which is where most of the water is used. Would the plants absorb the saltwater and transpire freshwater? Halophytes are used for high salinity soil remediation and do uptake salt as far as I know. With poor drainage the problem seems worse. Better drainage may help.

    • They keep the salt and use it. There is an illustration in this article if you click on the link.
      From the article:

      In a generic ISAS™ operation, seawater is pumped from the sea via canals (and ultimately new seawater rivers), flowing through an aquaculture system in which fish and other seafood are produced using quality assured and monitored procedures. The seawater effluent from this operation is high in nutrients and is used to irrigate and fertilize mangrove forests and meadows of salicornia, a valuable oil seed and straw crop. The salicornia is harvested as an annual crop and oil pressed from its seed. The oil is transformed into liquid fuels, while the seed meal becomes feed for the aquaculture crops and other animals. The straw may be used for fiberboard, ruminant feed, liquid biofuel or as a solid biofuel for power generation or cement production. The mangrove trees clean and stabilize the marine / terrestrial interface, restore critical habitat, provide long term carbon sequestration and contribute to animal feeds and solid biofuels. This nutrient-flow system also can provide revenue generating co-products such as sea-cucumbers, bi-valves, macro-algae, artemia and salt.

      The comprehensive, integrated system is the basis for economic, environmental and social benefits. The whole system is built on non-arable and freshwater starved land, obviating competition with food production. The ISAS™ technology has been designed and prototyped by Global Seawater, Inc. and The Seawater Foundation on two sites: Seawater Farms Eritrea, in Eritrea, East Africa; and Bahia Kino, Sonora, Mexico.

      http://www.newnileco.com/en/understanding-isas/isas-in-detail.html

      • ” The seawater effluent from this operation is high in nutrients and is used to irrigate and fertilize mangrove forests ”

        Won’t work. Mangroves require brackish water with lower salt content than normal seawater. Using effluent with increased salt content will kill them. Just take a look at mangrove stands e. g. in the Red Sea or Persian Gulf. They only grow at locations where ground water (or more rarely surface water) seeps into the sea and lowers salinity.

  34. Geoff Sherrington

    Colour me skeptical.
    Many, many times since 1960 I have flown Adelaide-Alice Springs-Darwin. This has 1000 miles or so of desert vistas, so naturally you think about how it could be more productive.
    Near the northern, wetter end of this track, people did do something about it. The Ord River received a large dam and this alowed fresh water, irrigated farming on a reasonably large scale. The concept grew to a smallish size and stagnated. There was no shortage of water.
    Those interested in the topic should study Ord River as a case history. I shall not analyse it here because I am out of date with reading. Many of the diverse reasons for stagnation have general application.
    One of the problems is difficulty in attracting qualified, capable people to remote areas for long terms, covering many disciplines.
    A more recent problem is the incessant, needless filtering of development proposals through successions of hostile, emotional, sustainability and environmental matters.This regulatory/social impediment is way out of control, but one needs to be old enough to have lived through the better way – and youngsters, miseducated to know no better, seldom listen to old farts.

    • The biggest problem was evaporate buildup. Eventually poisons the land. Higher the evaporation rate, faster this happens. Any groundwater carries a load of dissolved minerals. Only precipitation does not (well, only very little by comparison).
      Irrigation really only is possible over the long haul where there is sufficient annual precipitation to also rinse away evaporate that would otherwise accumulate. In true deserts, this is not the case. Even in places like northern India and Bangladesh, this is not the case. There, formerly irrigated land is being abandoned at about the same rate that ‘fresh’ land is being brought under irrigation. By the mid-2020s, two things happen simultaneously. One, the northern aquifers become depleted unless precipitation patterns change dramatically. They have already dropped tens of meters, whichnis why there is also the arsenic poisoning problem there (separate but related discussion). Two, land abandonment will far outstrip new additions, since it will all have been used. A completely foreseeable slow motion train wreck. At least in that region, we will getntomwatch Malthus in motion unless the world becomes so generous as to provide really cheap ‘virtual water’ (imported foodstuffs). Water, irrigation, agriculture, and virtual water are all discussed and more importantly quantified in Gaia’s Limits.

  35. Some quesitons:

    If you dug large channels along someplace like the coast of West Africa, having them feed into excavated basins (big shallow lakes) where the colder Atlantic waters would warm up, would their evaporation rate be high enough to start producing natural rainfall further inland?

    Given that the desert has a fairly high, uniform albedo, could you make large dark areas (perhaps by spreading ground up coal) to create hot spots that would destabilize the atmosphere, generating large convection cells that would produce reliable rainfall, similar to what happens over many large cities?

    And could you cool a hot inland area (like east Los Angeles) simply by pumping cold seawater through large, finned tower structures, creating a microclimate as if those areas had moved to the seaside?

    • Would new salt lakes produce rainfall? I think they would, and the prevailing winds would matter which may be from the North East in West Africa. This additional benefit of more rainfall might be worth a lot if it falls on a formerly arid region, and contributes to a large scale desert retreat. If a location requires lifting seawater using pumps, that cost would be compared to the benefits. We’d be terraforming.

  36. Pingback: blooming fast trees … | pindanpost

  37. I am highly skeptical about both ideas. The halophytes idea sounds good but I wonder what are they going to do about all the salt that will get deposited in the soil? Even halophytes have some limit and die if there is too much salt. In the end it would mean converting all deserts into salty deserts in exchange for maybe several decades of crop production. That does not sound even sustainable to me.
    Regarding solar power for desalination, it is of course obvious idea, yet another obvious thing is that desalination plants don’t care where does the energy come from – they are using what’s the cheapest available. Because using expensive energy to desalinate makes final product – water – expensive as well. It is already quite expensive even when using cheap power sources.

  38. Two issues, one from the green [brown] perspective. If you irrigate the worlds deserts you kill the fauna and flora that depend on desert like conditions. Not humans, I know . Not important, I know. But part of our biodiversity that has been around for tens of thousands of years.. A bit like destroying the Tigers, Rhino’s and elephants etc.
    So bad for some.
    In the case of Australia and possibly the areas talked about in the article for the world at least is a much simpler, non energy dependent, reliable means of terraforming.
    Queensland , NSW etc have large coastal ranges where the water is “wasted” [in one sense].
    A simple boring of tunnels through the hills would take the water supply more into the interior of the country creating massive areas of farming. Bad again for the indigenous animal and vegetative life but good for humans. This would be applicable to USA and to parts of Africa, Italy and Pakistan at a minimum. A lot of initial outlay but very low cost future benefits and not dependent on solar at all.

    • You shouldn’t have to convert every square inch of desert for this to work. And there may be other developments to help feed the world.

    • Desert fauna and flora survived the previous warmer interglacial when most deserts were much smaller than today. For example in Sahara true desert was largely restricted to the area immediately west of the lower Nile.

  39. Salt water irrigation or desalination? Why chose one over the other?

    http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2009-05/01/irrigation-system-can-grow-crops-with-salt-water

    That is just one example of using “passive” reverse osmosis to purify water for irrigation. Some pressure is provided by the head on the irrigation piping and the rest by the piping to soil differential. If the porosity of the piping is refined, nanotech/graphene or something similar, the purity and efficiency would be improved. That would be a passive solar desalination system specific for irrigation.

    If you want to collect water for other uses, cover one area of the field with glass or plastic to collect condensation in the night/evening or include a higher pressure pump for domestic use. Of course you need some source of water, but it really doesn’t matter what kind.

    Now a “group” solution might be building a monstrous desal facility or genetically modifying salt tolerant crops, because that is the way the “group” thinks. Luckily, there are a variety of “groups” out there.

  40. Any of you English gentlemen (poms) have any sense of how the voting is going in Scotland? If they want to go their own way, just pull a Putin on them. They won’t have much of a navy. They won’t be able to control any offshore oil resources. And if they complain, send in The Black Watch to sort them out.

  41. DesertCorp has been at it 23 years and has a total area of (mostlyaquaculture shrimp, and a little bit of the salt resistant Salicornia) of less than 100 acres — after 23 years. Other than the shrimp, which are produced all over the 3rd world, there is really nothing but a dream. Dreams are good, but they won’t feed the world or solve our energy problems. Look at the video from CNN — there are not 100s of acres of food crops growing green in the desert — there are 90 or so acres of shrimp paddys — you see the shrimp harvest takes 20 or so peasants alone.

    In contrast, my grandfather farmed 200 acres in Wisconsin my himself for years, and later with his growing son — diary, fodder, corn, vegetables. 1 and a half people — 200 productive acres.

    Interesting ideas — but until bioengineering can produce salt-tolerant grains like corn or wheat or soy, I don’t think this is going to fly.

    Seems to be a great method for shrimp farming though!

  42. Shrimp farming is only along the coasts, where the water can be constantly refreshed so there is no salinity buildup. Is all along the Thai coast.

    • Eddy Turbulence

      • Eddy Turbulence

        This is a really small scale operation, ( with a lot of subsidy for the research, I’m sure ).

        But it’s kinda interesting – they’re growing the shrimp on cotton seed waste.

        When my wife and I walked past their wharehouse, we saw the big swimming pools and buckets of a product called ‘Instant Ocean’ which is evidently the salt mix for the pools. They re-circulate the water, though, so that’s not a limiter.

      • It is an interesting NMSU research program funded by Cotton Inc. The undergrad assistants decided to market the results, and sure made up a catchy sign.
        It seems successful so far , and might reduce feed costs for the big commercial shrimp farming operations, most of which are in Asia.

  43. Watching Dr. Evil and Mini-Me slap each other with their leather fringed man purses never gets old.

  44. Judith,

    I look forward to reading your blog EVERY day, you always surprise me.

    ” I look forward to the comments from the engineers, economists, and ecologists…”

    What about us simple people? :) We do vote and thus influence policy!

    BTW, is the Denizens section still open for new entries? I

    I like both ideas and here are my thoughts:

    First, and most importantly, the state should make the resource available and let the genius of the market decide how to use it. If the choice of projects is top down, the entire process will become subject to political patronage and corruption.

    Who owns the land? This will be one of the first opportunities for corruption.

    The state should do the dredging, the ongoing maintenance of the shared infrastructure, and should also own and maintain the mangroves and buffer wildlands. This should be funded by a tax system designed to maximize productive use and minimize political patronage and corruption.

    The funding mechanism for individual projects should come from the private sector. This could be through traditional financial institutions or modern mechanisms like crowd-sourcing. The worst case scenario would be via the World Bank. I will go out on a limb and claim most WB money has been stolen by autocrats, oligarchs, and other corrupt politicians. Nation state financing, even in nations with the rule of law, think Solyndra, is not efficient.

    The rule of law must be in place. When I think of the big deserts – Gobi, Kalahari, Sahara – I don’t think of the rule of law. To ensure adequate financing, property rights need to be respected.

    Any mention of “renewable energy” makes me nervous. This a personal bias and I can handle it. :) Note that the second article starts talking about one thing and soon morphs into a renewable energy presentation. It gives me the willies.

    I think the real challenges are not going to be technical, but rather political, legal, and sociological (tribal rights and traditions, for example). If those are managed, then the economic issues are manageable. If the economic incentives are in place, then the technical challenges fall by the wayside.

    Justin ( from the peanut gallery)

    • Hi Justin, unfortunately i need to close comments on a post after 20 days, otherwise spam is overwhelming. I wish i could keep Denizens thread open, will open it at least once per year for newcomers.

  45. John Vonderlin

    Color me skeptical, very skeptical, about all these efforts . As somebody pointed out, how can land requiring a huge infrastructure project to use it, water pumping and its expense to keep it going, genetic modification of the crops to even survive under these harsh circumstances, dubious user acceptance or only a theorized use of its products as well as multiple remediation efforts required for the after effects of the techniques used, possibly compete with one man farming 200 acres of rich farm land under natural circumstances?
    Maybe a box of free condoms sent in the mail every month to every household would be a more cost effective solution to food anxiety than trying to turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse. Given that the per capita calorie availability of food has greatly increased in recent decades we are considering these extremely expensive geo-engineering pipe dreams with so many possible unintended consequences because…?
    If the I.S.A.S. dreamers’ “great” success has been primarily shrimp aquaculture, I’d merely point out: “between 1985 and 1995 the world’s shrimp farmers used 36 million tons of wild fish to produce just 7.2 million tons of shrimp.” .Maybe when the wild fish run out Soylent Green can be substituted for fish meal and the problem will be solved in an environmentally sustainable way.

    • You may be right. I’ve been looking for a current status of the seawater projects and haven’t come up with much. Apparently the African project didn’t go anywhere and on an unrelated note people are fleeing the country.

      Maybe some day technology will enable the greening of the desert.

    • John V, ” I’d merely point out: “between 1985 and 1995 the world’s shrimp farmers used 36 million tons of wild fish to produce just 7.2 million tons of shrimp.”

      A friend of mine was involved with aquaculture on the Cobia fry side of things. The had breed stock and hatched fry with the newly hatched needing a mix of all natural diatom and larva. They then trained the fry to eat a feed mix that was only 10% or so fish protein. That was a major break though in their opinion. Then the fry were shipped off to ocean raising pens where they were fed the 10% fish protein pellets. They end up with a 1 to 1 feed to harvested fish ratio with an average 10 pound growth in the first year. Pretty impressive. There were quite a few entertaining problems along the way though.

      http://www.openblue.com/our-fish/open-blue-cobia/

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aquaculture_of_cobia

  46. John Vonderlin

    CaptDallas,
    Thanks for the links. There was some interesting stuff there.
    While oceanic aquaculture has a brighter future if its many problems can be solved, I don’t place much hope it can solve our food problems. It seems more likely it will always be a niche market, World production of cobia seems to be about a hundred million pounds, where as present global fish production: “The mean of reported annual world fisheries catches for 1988-1991 (94.3 million t) was split into 39 species groups.” That’s about two thousand times greater.
    Any attempt to scale aquaculture up greatly will probably generate a shortage of protein sources of feed and a subsequent big rise in prices. The global production of cottonseed meal, mentioned above by someone else, seems to comprise less than 6 million tons a year, less than one fourth of the present 27 million tons yearly of by catch of so-called trash fish, a significant source of fish meal protein. With modern technology becoming ever more efficient at vacuuming everything out of the oceans I’m expecting that number will plummet and prices will rise significantly for fish meal, as they have for the favored species.
    While soybean meal is produced in sufficient quantity (U.S. and China alone are nearly 100 million tons) I’m not sure feeding fish with it rather than eating it is any kind of food solution for the world. It would seem to have the same problems that finishing cattle with corn or converting corn into ethanol for our autos have. Or running the world with windmill and solar panel energy. I’d love to be proved wrong by human ingenuity and innovation, but remain skeptical it will happen.

    • John V, it is pretty much a niche since Tilapia are insanely easy to raise in comparison. Due to regulations it is also a not in the US backyard type of venture. The success in weaning the cobia off high fish protein to vegetable protein is a big deal though. While cotton seed and other cash crop proteins are commonly used there are also ocean based algae, Sargasso weed etc. that can be used though I am not fond of harvesting too much Sargasso.

      It is just another interesting thing to watch.

  47. Pingback: Weekly Climate and Energy News Roundup #150 | Watts Up With That?

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