Thursday, July 10, 2008

Get Out Those Bulldozers and Dig those Canals!

The LA Times has an article discussing an agricultural/biofuel venture which utilizes the plant salicornia.

The crop is salicornia. It is nourished by seawater flowing from a man-made canal. And if you believe the American who is farming it, this incongruous swath of green has the potential to feed the world, fuel our vehicles and slow global warming.

Feed the world, fuel vehicles, and slow global warming? Is that all? This is actually a pretty interesting article because the venture doesn't need freshwater and can be located on coastal desert areas.

He wants to channel the ocean into man-made "rivers" to nourish commercial aquaculture operations, mangrove forests and crops that produce food and fuel. This greening of desert coastlines, he said, could add millions of acres of productive farmland and sequester vast quantities of carbon dioxide, the primary culprit in global warming. Hodges contends that it could also neutralize sea-level rise, in part by using exhausted freshwater aquifers as gigantic natural storage tanks for ocean water.

Analyzing recent projections of ice melt occurring in the Antarctic and Greenland, Hodges calculates that diverting the equivalent of three Mississippi Rivers inland would do the trick. He figures that would require 50 good-sized seawater farms that could be built within a decade if the world gets cracking.
I am always skeptical of large scale engineering projects meant to address large scale environmental problems. That does not mean there haven't been tremendous successes in the past, but there are lots of examples of engineering projects that resulted in unfortunate unintended consequences. One prime example has been the engineering of the Mississippi River. For a great book on the subject, check out RISING TIDE: THE GREAT MISSISSIPPI FLOOD OF 1927 AND HOW IT CHANGED AMERICA.

This may very be a pipe dream, but I do love reading about new innovative energy and agricultural products. It will be interesting to see if this is economically feasible.

HT: Environmental Capital

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