Kinkajou : Changing the climate could make a huge difference to the capacity of a country like Australia to support human population. But what changes are necessary? Very few people have looked at potential solutions to this problem. While there are many ways of engaging in arid farming practices, long-term sustainable solutions to exploitation of these regions demand that humans develop the capacity to control weather and to influence rainfall.
Kinkajou : So if we are planning to alter farmability of a country like Australia, what might be the issues?
Maxim um Temperature Deciles Summer
Erasmus : Water is the single most important factor. The sheer volume of water required (250 mm annual rainfall by 7,000,000 km²); in addition to the difficulty in transporting this where it is needed forms the basic problem. Doing this in a cost-effective fashion is the next problem. The only resources or activities that are economically feasible and possible for humanity to generate or redirect are:
- animals, and
- human activities.
When the goal is to utilise the land for agricultural activities, it may also be easier to redefine what agricultural activities may be worthwhile undertaking. Traditional rain fed agriculture and land use is not an option even if the above-mentioned quantities of water are transported across the Australian continent.
Kinkajou : So what is the value of generating or directing heat?
Space Solar Array Generating light and Heat
Erasmus : Heat is energy. It is heat energy from the sun that drives the weather cycle. The Earth’s rotation also supplies angular momentum energy through friction with the land or water surface to the atmosphere above it.
If we can control weather hotspots and the cold spots are on the Australian continent or on the seascape/ oceanscape around it, we can control where the weather/climate pushes water laden air. This will then control precipitation.
Let’s discuss some examples. The relatively shallow Coral Sea basin to the north-east of Queensland stays relatively warmer than the Pacific Ocean adjacent. This creates a lower pressure area which pulls moisture laden air into this area. This air mass is squeezed between the New Guinea Highlands on the tropics/equator and the Australian landmass. It becomes difficult for moisture laden air to make a left turn into the inland plains of Queensland. Most of the precipitation falls on the coast Cape York and the Arnhem Land of the Northern Territory, or in the New Guinea highlands.
If the Coral Sea could be cooled, (shaded) this creates a relatively high pressure region forcing air down the Queensland coast and through the gap in the Great Dividing Range into the middle inland Queensland. We have just created a weather engine.
Another example would suggest the use of solar mirrors or solar lenses to warm the inland gap in the mid Queensland Great Dividing Range. This warm area will create a low which sucks moisture laden air England into the middle of Queensland feeding the inland plains.
Clouds Reflecting Light
Other basic facilitating factors for changing weather or climate in Australia are altering human elements of the landscape.
To alter airflow, proposals include:
- White asphalt,
- Cool roofs ,
- Vegetation free land-based weather channels (to reduce land resistance for air moving into the mid Queensland coast),
- Possibly using dams and water storage in wetter coastal areas for the heat retaining properties affecting airflow are all possibilities.
- Even simple factors like changing the colour of housing the region
These options could well change the heat signature of the Australian landmass and so alter the climate. Especially useful since human activities create a "barrier" along the coastline. So, small changes can alter access characteristics for water laden air to the interior of the continent.
Kinkajou : So how can we generate or redirect heat?
Erasmus : Systemic solutions include space shades in geo-stationery orbit around the sun. Similarly space lenses or space mirrors could be used to redirect heat and solar energy to specific areas of the earth. The amount of energy reaching the Earth may not even change.
What may be important to change climate / rainfall
is to change is where heat is directed.
- If we were capable of creating a solar mirror array, to what extent would a 5km wide hot spot created by reflected solar light onto the southern oceans change the inflow of polar air onto the mainland of the continent?
- Should the hot spot be created in the Coral Sea to change the heat engine that drives much of the upper continental airflow?
- Should the Coral Sea basin be engineered to improve its oceanic drainage characteristics with resultant change in ocean water temperature?
Lake Eyre Flood
Much has been mentioned about algal blooms in the ocean being used to soak up CO2 from the atmosphere. However another possibility is to use the algal blooms to retain heat in specific parts of the ocean again changing the thermal signature of the ocean around parts of the Australian continent.
Would these algal blooms create enough plant growth to improve global CO2 extraction and help to combat the greenhouse effect? The plant growth could be within the biomass in the oceans or within the new biomass growing on land.
The Great Dividing Range on the Australian coast is actually not particularly high. So applying heat to moist air masses crossing this divide may well stop coastal precipitation and encourage the wet air masses to penetrate much further inland.
Kinkajou : I think that the main climate engines for Australia are the tropical monsoon like air masses in the north, the hot dry arid interior with low vegetation and the cold dry Antarctic air masses that drift regularly in from the south across the vast expanse of the Southern Ocean.
Erasmus : True. You only need to watch the weather report to appreciate the mass effects of these climate engines.
Kinkajou : Any more examples of landscape engineering?
Lake Eyre Australia Arid
Erasmus : Yes!
- For example, if large tall trees were planted across the southern part of the continent, would this impede cold airflow enough onto the continent to improve precipitation rates? To what extent?
- Does building a lot of small dams change the thermal characteristics of the landscape in a fashion that improves or prevents precipitation? Should cities be built in straight lines going inland or as strips along the coast to create favourable precipitation effects?
- To what extent would improving rainfall create further plant growth? Would this extra plant growth buffer the climate changes we have introduced or would it favour a self-sustaining change in climate.
Kinkajou : You mentioned clouds before.
Erasmus : Yes. There have been a number of proposals for climate engineering based on pumping superfine high pressure water high into the atmosphere. This would create clouds of micro ice crystals, effectively reflecting large amounts of light. I expect cooling would be the result of such an activity.
So generating patches of clouds anywhere could create walls of high pressure (see is cold) air. This could direct airflow away from all around these cool patches.
I think it’s a better way of engineering temperature change than just planting lines of trees, though there may be some value in a number of combined proposals.
Kinkajou : You’ve raised a lot of Questions, but have no answers.
Erasmus : The first step in considering change is further knowledge. You need to think about it before you can consider doing it. Time effort and money is a time old recipe for gaining knowledge and understanding.
Kinkajou : I agree.
The other basic proposal in considering Australian climate is just having an integrated energy and water policy. Perhaps using solar power to pump water could be useful.
There is considerable talk about the difficulty of using wind or solar power systems to supply state-wide power needs. A lot of talk focuses on how you need ten times as much capacity to produce wind power as power production can be reliably generated. Wind power can be erratic and unreliable.
Add in another consideration, and the scenario changes. Consider if you use the “spare” power to pump water falling on the eastern side of the mountains over to the drier western side of the mountains. By pumping water up into reservoirs, it can be released down the other side of the mountain range when extra hydroelectric capacity is required. The system would have considerable inefficiencies and transmission losses.
However, it does shift the water.
It gets the water from rivers where it goes to the sea and is wasted to sites where it could be used for agriculture. Diversion of dirty water inland would have likely positive consequences for the Great Barrier Reef. (Muddy water full of nutrients causes algal growth problems). Power is created and used to supply the population needs, albeit at very poor overall efficiencies). Excess capacity when available can be used to achieve a secondary purpose of the entire proposal: namely using the excess power to run pumps to transfer water to where it may be needed.
Effectively what this means the integration of power generation and water diversion. Perhaps climate modification can achieve the transportation of water in adequate quantities. However I believe it will be necessary to supplement internal landmass rainfall with coastal water from rivers and city run-offs. It makes sense in reducing the impact of human activities on the Great Barrier Reef in any case.
Recycling of potable freshwater water makes sense. Drinkable Water is precious. So instead of dumping it into the ocean, why not redirected to where other uses can be made of it, such as the inland Queensland Rivers which drain down the Murray Darling Basin to South Australia.
Lake Eyre Australia- a Dry Place
Kinkajou : An interesting proposal. It all comes down to the economics of the proposal. I think there may well be many different solutions rather than just one single solution required to change the problems of the aridity of the interior of the Australian continent.
The Gravity Solution
Kinkajou : Any other bright sparks?
Erasmus : Well yes. If we ever do invent how to generate gravity, we can use gravity engine to pick up cubic kilometre sized ice cubes from the Antarctic subcontinent and then transport these into the Australian interior. I used to worry about the ice cubes melting as are transported, but you need to remember that the air temperature high in the atmosphere is often colder than -30°C. Add to that a wind chill factor from travelling at speed and I think you can be quite safely assured that your ice cube no matter how big or small it is, will not melt.
Why not just use your gravity field to “suck” wet sea air deep into the Australian interior along the gaps in the Great Barrier Range (Along the entire eastern Australian coast essentially).
There are other obvious solutions but not in the engineering dominion. Redesigning plants and animals with new genes to assist growth in arid environments may well be a very viable option. Genes make the plant. So why not make a water wise plant. Evolution in these regions has developed many solutions across a wide range of species, over many millions of years essentially at random but guided by natural selection. I think intelligent design can do better. It’s not something that we can do it the moment though.
Social engineering changes are also important. There is no point to building cities in the arid inland of Australia in the same way that you build cities on coast of Australia. Water wise is critical. It becomes essential to recycle all the available water. The average household in Australia uses 200 to 400 L of water per person per day, with the average being closer to 400 L mark. For a household with say 4 people, this is approximately 1.5 m³.of water per day. The landscape may not be to tolerate this level of water extraction and waste. We can’t simply dump the water and not worry about where it goes we have to use the water we have. A cubic metre of water can serve several purposes, not just to be used for washing clothes in the average home.
Redesigning water storage is important. In the arid inland, a dam can lose 10 cm of water in evaporation daily during summer. Deep water stores with narrow evaporative surfaces become critical. At a basic example a swimming pool sized body of water would have its evaporation substantially reduced if a blanket is placed upon its surface. So underground closed water storage becomes a desirable commodity. As is usual with most facilities, is important to maintain access for maintenance cleaning or other tasks.
Xeriscaping House Yard
Getting people to become more tolerant of the Xeriscaping would reduce or eliminate the need for supplemental water for irrigation in housing gardens. People often have a negative perception of this type of landscaping because many people assume these types of gardens are ugly. However beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
The need to have green clean lawn is not a genetic imperative to human beings. If people must have turf available, limiting the amount of area to be turfed would be accepted if people were educated correctly. Cacti and succulent gardens are not ugly. In fact many people in cities cultivate them, often just for the thrill of seeing the occasional annual Cactus flower.
Non-turf gardens also require less fertiliser and maintenance, so our cultural bias towards green lawns needs to be educated away if people are to live happily in arid lands.
Arid Agriculture Successes
Kinkajou : How successful have countries in the world today been with arid agriculture?
Erasmus : One country specialising in arid agriculture is Israel. More than half the land is desert and only 20% of the land area is naturally arable, by traditional rain fed agricultural methods. Interesting developments here include new farming structures covering larger regions.
Soil Conservation Farming
For example, the Kibbutz or Moshav structures, enable a number of families to corporately work a region of land. So instead of one farmer trying to undertake a number of different forms of agriculture on one farm, different farmers specialising in different tasks undertake specific tasks together on a much larger regional or communal farm.
For example, in Australia one farmer could specialise in harvesting and maintenance of dates, another in land preparation for annual crops, another water recycling systems, another in arid animal husbandry. These activities could fit well together. However the imperative is to develop viable socially engineered options for cooperative effort. We believe in capitalism. Reward for energy activity and sweat. However a number of economic or agricultural activities may well lend themselves to cooperative or communal models. Social engineering creates viable models for people to live in and to achieve rewards for themselves and their families, and even the communities.
In parts of Israel, brackish well water obtained from under the desert has been found suitable for aquaculture such as the farming of fish shrimp and crustaceans in the Negev. The water has also been found to be at least partially suitable for some agricultural purposes. (In Australia, farmers use water from the artesian bores to supply water to their stock. Some small towns have used artesian water is to create a small oasis in the desert promoting tourism as an economic model.)
There are social engineering aspects to Israel’s agri-tech activities. Government has set production and water quotas for many crops, stabilising prices, and encouraging farmers to engage with specialised farming and encouraging farmers to halt the production of crops for which no sufficiently profitable markets exist. Surprisingly for an arid country, Israel exports flowers out of season to Europe utilising its arid but warm climate for its extended growing season.
Can creating new exotic animals through bioengineering help us to farm the arid wastes of out planet. The humble chicken is regarded as an agricultural staple around the world today but is very destructive of the environment due to their genetically determined behaviour dictating "scratching and raking" food-gathering activities.
Kinkajou : Clever!
Erasmus :There is also the option of doing things we have never done before. Some cropping suggestions include brine shrimp, farming locusts, growing chlorella in wet hothouses, growing gene engineered brackish water tolerant fish, developing algal blooms in watercourses for temperature and climate modification purposes across a region.
There are many things we do well currently and which we can continue doing. Adapting varieties of plants and animals to improve yield, durability, pest tolerance and climate tolerance is something we are doing across the globe. But the economic model of arid climates requires extra financial support at least in the developmental stages. Innovation is normally expensive, time-consuming and beyond the capabilities of the average farmer.
Kinkajou : So back to climate engineering. We talked about the greenhouse effect on the planet with the increasing CO2 levels. To enable us to understand how we can change the climate of our planet will require us to develop climatic models which can allow understanding, prediction and finally human intervention in climate.
Climate engineering is also relevant to using the weather is a water pumping engine to allow better human usage of arid areas such as inland Australia. Australia is a prime example for this type of activity because as a continent it stands alone, so experimenting with the Australian environment is unlikely to have global effects. Your neighbours are unlikely to get upset, because they are so far away from what you are doping and are surrounded by the mitigating effects of the seas and oceans around them. This is further mitigated by the reduced landmass in southern hemisphere, the southern hemisphere of the planet being largely notable for its large oceans.
Erasmus : We’ve used an Australian example, but climate engineering allows planetary sized data models to be built. This may be quite a breakthrough since currently climate models can’t agree on whether global warming is indeed occurring. Simple end points such as degree of cloud cover may give a clue, if we knew we had to measure this.
Erasmus :The first step in considering change is further knowledge. You need to think about it before you can consider doing it. Time effort and money is a time old recipe for gaining knowledge and understanding.
In short, the first thing to do is to aim to collect enough data to be able to model the issue in computers. Perhaps represent the country as a collection of 1000m by 1000m modules to allow digital data processing.
- Short term goal: weather prediction
- Medium term goal: climate prediction
- Long term goal: climate modification
Knowing what effects humans have on the environment, becomes the first step in considering controlling the effect of humans on the environment.
Kinkajou : So what have you learned Goo?
Goo : Well I certainly agree with Erasmus, that the only way we can shift enough water to make Australia’s deserts arable is to use the weather or climate engine itself. Just to add 250 mm per annum of rainfall across the desert that exists in Australia requires at leaast 250 km³ of water. To actually make the same impact upon us all the arid areas in Australia would require of the order of 1125 km³ of water. These figures may actually be reduced if some of the water is recycled. That is the water evaporates rises in the air cools and falls rain. After all water is a renewable resource.
To use the weather as an engine for climate change requires comprehensive and detailed computer modelling. First measure, then predict, then modify is the motto. This is likely to be a long and expensive process, probably well beyond the political will of many people, no matter what the benefits.
Some of the science fiction options for creating climate change are certainly of interest. Gravity lensing solar radiation, solar mirrors, solar lenses, solar shades, ice Cloud generation, gravity drive shifting of polar ice cubes of one cubic kilometre in size, are all unusual but potentially useful options.
Frankly, if we can generate gravity, we can use gravity beams to pull more moisture laden air deep within the interior of the continent. This may be the most basic and cost-effective form of climate engineering. However we need to be able to generate gravity to make any of these options economically viable.
The possible exception is the generation of ice clouds. Pumping high pressure water very high in the atmosphere to form superfine clouds of ice particles, reflecting light is certainly something I’m sure we could do with current engineering knowledge. Knowing what to do, and how much, and where to do it of course is the problem.
Developing different plant and animal species again will require more bio- engineering knowledge that we currently possess. However the potential gains in this area are huge. There needs to be considerable research in understanding genes, how they work and how they are controlled, before we can adapt our plants and animals for specific environments. Nature has certainly been at work on this issue for many millions of years. However, humanity has collected more resources (including genetic resources) derived from a much greater area. Humanity is able to pool this knowledge to generate specific solutions. Knowledge is the key.
Strangely enough I think social engineering is probably the biggest hurdle. Developing an economic model that helps people work together in small communities to exploit the landscape and undertake agriculture may mean moving beyond the family unit. Israel has its community cooperative models. Australia is equivalent I think is the company structure owned by shareholders. Financial return to all stakeholders is important.
Targeted specific community strategies need to be progressed. There is really not much point in drought relief that has no recognition of the realities of life in arid environments. Arid environments experience variability in rainfall. This means there will be drought years often between 1 to 5 years within every 10 years.
It may be better to give people social benefits or pension type payments in drought years on the proviso that certain amounts of work are done on the farm. In effect a cheap subsidised form of employment to keep people economically functioning in these environments. Allowing animals to be agisted away from arid sites in drought years, and then returned to drought environments in better rainfall years, is a worthwhile support in reducing land degradation while retaining genetic improvements to stock for specific climatic regions. Insisting on any farm receiving benefits having a drought management plan focused over decades, except the realities of arid agriculture.
Some models for government involvement in arid agriculture already exist, namely the Israeli government model. In Israel, the Government has set production and water quotas for many crops, stabilising prices, and encouraging farmers to engage with specialised farming and encouraging farmers to halt the production of crops for which no sufficiently profitable markets exist. Governments or cooperatives have resources beyond capacity of individual people or companies. This means they can undertake long term planning activities non-viable for smaller operators.
Economic Modelling Process
I think we want to retain the involvement of smaller operators being stakeholders in land management. This is consistent with our capitalist model of motivation and investment. However we do have to realise that smaller operators require coordination, assistance with development and improvements, and perhaps economic underwriting in cycles of specific difficulty.
Inspiration then perspiration should provide a reward. The future awaits us.