Would pumping sea water inland to create lakes be a possible solution to sealevel rise due to global warming?
This is a question I asked Bill McKibben three years ago. He said he’d look into it. I never got an answer.
I think it would serve three purposes:
- it would lower the sea level. Each inch of rise will produce roughly 1 million refugees. Sea level rise could wipe out ports, reducing our manufacturing capacity. Railroads would also be impacted.
- it will cool continental interiors by evaporation, and increase rainfall. These are important because warming and drying in the continental interior reduces agricultural productivity, increases forest fires, and otherwise worsens our problems.
- it could help to recharge aquifers, and perhaps accelerate the cleansing of fracking pollution.
- it could be used to generate electricity.
- if the salt were returned to the ocean, it would prevent a drop in ocean salinity, which is itself a concern in sea level rise.
Now, it’s geo-engineering on a massive scale. Geo-engineering is inherently dangerous. Could aquifers be contaminated by salt water?
How much land area would it require?
Wouldn’t the energy costs of pumping water uphill be hugely expensive? Indeed, wouldn’t the whole thing be simply too expensive?
These aren’t easy questions. Certainly the right way to deal with global warming is to reduce carbon and methane emissions, reduce wasteful consumption, etc. But the death grip that the oil industry has on this country’s politics is so total, and the ideas of the corporate geoengineers are so crazy, that we have to be prepared with our own answers.
We simply can’t be told that things are too expensive. The annual costs of global warming are estimated to be 250B in 2025– and rising. We can afford anything we can imagine, if it will solve the problem.
We can’t be told that it would take too much energy. Global warming = having too much energy. All that’s left is the technical problem of harnessing it.
We can’t be told that the lakes have to be below sea level as the Director of the Purdue Climate Change Center suggested. The Great Salt Lake is almost a mile high. Salt lakes can be above sea level. They just have to be contained. Not easy to do, but a technical problem.
Oh, and by the way–the underground water around the Great Salt Lake is just fine.
We can’t be told that it’s impossible to move that much water. Nature did it when it created the Totten Glacier. It’s merely a technical problem for us to copy her.
So, could such lakes be built? The surface area of the earth is 200 million square miles. Oceans are roughly 70% of the earth. So, a 10 foot rise in sea level is 265,000 square miles of water. That represents a land area roughly 500 miles on a side. That’s about twice the size of the Gobi desert. So, we could build one lake half a mile deep.
If even that seems impractical, suppose we built the lake just 500 feet deep. That would be 2 feet of the 10 feet of sea level rise. And every inch is a million or more refugees and billions in damage. To stop that one inch would be a lake only about 5 feet deep.
Ironically, the Chinese are already doing it. An American atmospheric scientist envisions the rise of oceans as a potential goldmine in farming salicornia bigelovii. Or shrimp. Or other crops that love the ocean.
And yet when one raises the thought, in America, it’s shouted down, as it was on Eschaton, where I broached it. Or it vanishes into Bill McKibben’s e-mail folder.
It’s getting embarrassing to be an American, where “big ideas” means coming up with new ways to laugh at Donald Trump.