Rising Sea Levels…The Saltwater Solution
As glaciers melt, and sea levels rise, it’s not too soon to discuss where all the water will flow. As global warming and climate change increase their threat to low lying populated communities on each continent, immediate fresh thinking is in order about future water migration and containment. With this new challenge, opportunities need to be identified for engineers, architects and land planners to practice their crafts in bold and imaginative ways.
There is no doubt…with modern engineering and design techniques, civilization is poised for another great terrestrial engineering renaissance in its battle with higher water levels.
Building dikes, dams, aqueducts and levees in areas where such structures were once unthinkable will be common place over the next several decades. Structural defenses to the sea will be considered by local, state, regional and national governments as public awareness of high water threats to lowlands increases. It’s not too soon for the barrier islands and coastal areas of the United States to start planning for the challenge, and threat, of higher water levels.
By utilizing sustainable and proven engineering techniques, nations and non-governmental organizations can re-direct water in substantial ways. Civilization has centuries of experience with this task. Dikes are already found along the sea in many places across the globe. Earthen walls to protect areas from the ocean date back to the Indus Valley civilization in Pakistan and Northern India. According to Wikipedia, they first appeared around 2600 BC. When most people think of dikes, they are reminded of the Netherlands, where they have been found since the 12th Century and are used to fight sea intrusion. Governments have used aqueducts (artificial channels that carry water) as early as the 7th century, BC. If built properly, their utility in diverting massive quantities of water is incredible. One ancient aqueduct, constructed by the Assyrians, ran 50 miles in length and was amazing for its time. Today the California Aqueduct flows over 444 miles. Levees date back to ancient Egypt and can be built to sustain hurricanes and other extreme forces of nature.
Usually, when one searches for web sites and blogs dealing with engineering and global warming, the results show how engineers are working proactively to reduce or eliminate our future carbon imprint through innovative technologies. But it is difficult to find articles on how engineering and design can alter the Earth to cope with the tangible results of climate change. The field of engineering is experienced in the kind of challenges which lie ahead based upon centuries of accomplishments. It is evident that experts are up to the momentous task of managing and creating large bodies of water to serve as super retaining areas. In so doing, their efforts will stimulate economies and improve living conditions.
As coastal areas are threatened by rising seas, experts need to work with local and regional authorities to determine what kind of man-made protection systems can divert water and reduce prospects of flooding and salt water intrusion. New locations for lakes, dams, aqueducts, levees and dikes will be identified. Fresh thinking needs to be set in motion to find parts of the planet which can host unfathomable quantities of water in human created storage lakes which promote agriculture, economic development, create energy and help solve the effects of climate change.
Here’s one vision: Desert areas of Africa, North America, Australia and other locations may one day host massive state size man-made “super reservoirs” fed by flood ways designed to contain and control rising waters from other parts of the continents, while at the same time producing square miles of edible plants and the raw materials of biofuels. These new “Great Lakes” offer exciting economic and development prospects. By working against the rising seas, engineers and architects can forge new paths to enhance food production, fight poverty and combat disease by employing the water they divert.
On February 14, 2009, the Arizona Daily Star published an article entitled, “Researcher sees an ocean of possibilities with seawater irrigation.” Describing the work of Carl Hodges (see top video), the report stated, “He wants to grow millions of acres of plants in the middle of the desert using seawater – a plan that he says ultimately would lower rising sea levels, halt global warming and provide jobs for millions of people in developing countries.” Hodges’ work is already being done in Eritrea on the horn of Africa. (See video below).There strategies and technologies employed by Hodges have produced a massive sea farm which harvests fish and shrimp. This innovative type of agriculture is also at work in Sonora, Mexico, using water from the Sea of Cortez. (See middle video).
Is it too far fetched to imagine the Sahara desert of North Africa as a massive reservoir hosting water from the Atlantic that will change the face of nations and enhance the lives of growing populations? Not at all. On April 26, 2007, National Geographic Newsreported the Darfur region in Sudan once housed a giant lake, probably the size of Lake Erie, and scientists are looking for remaining underground water sources to help assist refugees. Under the pressure of global warming, we can replace the Sahara lake bed and transform other desert areas into vital sources of life. Desalinization plants may not be needed in all areas, given the technology of the Seawater Foundation, which is headed by Hodges, a 72 year-old visionary.
Surely conventional geopolitics would be substantially altered by this new engineered geography, but with ice caps melting, and glaciers drifting to liquid, and with small islands starting to fear for their existence, the fight against effects global warming offers opportunities for lasting man-made solutions. Besides governments, politicians and scientists, the burden to face the future with bold and innovative measures is in the hands of architects, engineers and structural experts. International cooperation is needed to marshal the resources of all relevant disciplines to start immediate planning for massive water diversion.
We cannot wait to face the future. We can create new rivers, canals and sea beds across world’s coastal interiors and should use the threat of rising sea levels to start solving existing and future global problems. The urgency of climate change will spur terrestrial development with excess water which will be used to enrich the planet, and mitigate the negative consequences of an altered climate.