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:
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.
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.
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?