Photo via Mugley
With a pile of stimulus money steaming fresh off President elect Obama's shovel, there are a number of researchers coming out of the woodwork with ideas on everything from filling the atmosphere with Sulfur to help minimize global warming to growing an entire world's worth of crops in the middle of the dessert with ocean saltwater.
Is this idea possible? Yes, but just because we can, doesn't necessarily mean that we should...Carl Hodges, Founder and Chairman of the Seawater Foundation, has been working with the idea of growing crops in the middle of the desert for years. His ultimate plan is to be responsible for millions of acres of plants lined all along the barren deserts of the world. Currently he is looking at almost 600 acres of desert crop near Kino Bay, Mexico, all irrigated by the Sea Cortez. What sort of benefits would such an idea offer?
Benefits of Saltwater Irrigation
Seawater could theoretically grow food and biofuel on currently useless land, counter the dreaded rise of sea water, reduce global warming, increase the amount of available fresh water, and provide a host of new jobs (100 million approximately) for folks in poor, developing countries. This looks great on paper, especially sitting in front of a government official reviewing projects for stimulus funding. But looks can sometimes be deceiving. At least that is what some portion of practical thought would tell us.
Repercussions of Saltwater Farming
Most salt-tolerating plants are not exactly high yielding crops due to their small size, which means that we are talking about quite a bit of acres needed to really make it worth our while. About 62 million acres will be needed initially according to Hodges. That is roughly the size of Michigan. The other problem is, why we are talking about desert land, there are still native plants and ecosystems (wetlands) which could be drastically effected by such actions for all we know. This could theoretically also have quite a negative impact on biodiversity as we know it on a number of fronts.
The plan would indeed use a large amount of seawater with its estimated 240 cubic miles needed to feed the 62 million acres for the initial project. That is more than double the amount of water currently within Lake Erie to us laymen folk. But with those 240 cubic miles comes all the leftover brine. Over the course of years, that's a lot of excess salt which would greatly increase the acidity (pH) of the surrounding soil. This is why inner coastal regions are the only areas where this idea could prosper, as the excess salt could spell ecosystem disaster for areas further out from the immediate coastal inland.
So far, the idea of saltwater crops has been nothing more than a pipe dream which has captured the attention of the world since the late 1970's. But with a new President and a new agenda, such an idea which has been lying commercially dormant for all these years could actually have a chance. Of particular interest to current stimulus funding is the idea that saltwater crops could feed up to 35 percent of the US need for liquid fuel. Is the relatively unknown nature of this gamble worth the investment? What are your thoughts?
Arizona Daily Star: Researcher sees an ocean of possibilities with seawater irrigation
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