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Ideas on the Use of Seawater Irrigation/Agriculture for Energy, Global Warming, Land, Fresh Water, Food & Minerals

Would you be interested in doing a report on using seawater for irrgation? There are at least two excellent articles on this use of seawater for growing crops:

  1. Irrigating Crops with Seawater" by Edward Glenn, Jed Brown, and James O'Leary, Scientific American, August 1998.

  2. "Saline Agriculture: Salt-Tolerant Plants for Developing Countries, U.S. National Academies of Science Press, 1990.
Both of these reports are quite optimistic about this possibility and the latter indicates that this has long, for centuries, been a common practice in parts of coastal India, even with the existing bio stock."

Below are a collection of thoughts from Dennis Bushnell, Chief Scientist at the NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, VA. In the process of researching future technology/future warfare for the Military and Intelligence Communities, he ran across the following:

Bushnell claims that the Chinese are already doing this. "If you Search Google for Seawater Agriculture, it's all there," he says! Other thoughts from Bushnell include:

"The 'Bio Revolution' is developing plant life which is not only tolerant of brackish water but even thrives on seawater. I [Bushnell] understand that seawater-irrigated tomatoes are quite tasty."

"The Department of Energy (DOE) has the enzymes to convert such bio mass into petro-chemical feed stock, enabling biomass energy, including hydrogen, production on a MASSIVE SCALE. And this is in previously underdeveloped areas, in essentially a CLOSED [overall] CO2 cycle, using non-fresh water."

"Such an approach changes, on a global scale, nearly everything, including much of energy-related economics. [What would happen] should we no longer need to use fossil fuels for energy or conventional agriculture? And, such biomass also could be used for food and plastics, etc.. The resultant evaporation of seawater on these land masses could also produce terraforming, putting rainfall back into the Middle East, and reversing the desertification of the sub-Sahara and similar areas."

"Such an approach, enabled by the "Bio Revolution", could enable MASSIVE changes in agriculture, land use, and global economics and potentially aleviate the fresh water, global warming, land and food shortage problems while providing a CLEAN (closed CO2 cycle) energy source (with MANY ways to distribute the energy,including H20."

"In addition, the resultant mineral layer after evaporation is rich in MANY useful materials. Its use could obviate several currently polluting "mining" activities. Also,the Scientific American article argues that the soils in these areas are such that much of the salt would leach back into the ocean."

"The Indians (on the Indian sub-continent) utilize, and have utilized, existing plant stocks/species which were naturally adapted to brackish/salt water." Bushnell notes that he has several such growing in his backyard, on the York River in Virginia, a tidal estuary. The National Academy report mentioned above documents all this: some food utilization, much animal feed, etc. The key, evidently, would be to increase yet more the salt tolerance/processing bits and, for energy biomass, to increase the growth rate.

The Scientific American article notes that "Yields of salt-tolerant crops grown using seawater agriculture are comparable to freshwater-grown alfalfa". And this is BEFORE anybody might muck about with the genomics, etc.

MSNBC ran an article on 7/31/01 entitled "GM Tomato is the first to grow in salty water and soil" - indicating a beginning of the genomic "Salt-Transformation", albeit on a "back-burner" basis.

People are seriously looking into CO2/Carbon sequestration, and all sorts of expensive projects/approaches just for attacking global warming. According to Bushness, the seawater cost approach "mitigates most of the major current human/species/planet ills" and it has tremendous potential geo-political impacts. "Simplistically, the oilmen become "farmers", but still stay in the Chemical Engineering business. The winners are the Australians, the North Africans, the Navaho and Hopi Indians in the American southwest, the Saudis and other desert-near-ocean owning groups, although pumping seawater inland is not that much of an issue."

Could this approach mitigate global warming (plants take up the CO2), provide a new source of Energy (just the Sahara may be enough to produce current energy requirements), and provide unlimited sources of fresh water?

Although there are alternatives for the energy and global warming isuees, says Bushnell, including "the wastly less expensive than current silicon Nano-PhotoVoltaics and H-B11 aneutronic fusion. An additional "gleam-in-the-eye" is Tapping Zero Point Energy, which some are seriously working on, has largely passed the giggle-factor stage. However,the seawater agriculture is doable NOW, is INEXPENSIVE, and has a large number of anciliary benefits. Conventional wisdom has it that Biomass is limited by conventional/arable land and fresh water limitations/scarcity. Seawater Agriculture removes these limitations. This is, of course, SOLAR!"


Credits: Ideas suggested by Dennis Bushnell, Chief Scientist at the NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton VA. In the process of his working future technology/future warfare for the Military and Intelligence Communities, he suggested we think about the above possibilities.

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