Bringing water to the desert

Bringing water to the desert would be the simplest thing to do. Each child that sees a map of the Mediterranean next to the Sahara wonders why the water isn’t used to irrigate the land. Ah, the salt. Ah, pumping is expensive. Still, Dutch children with a natural interest in water come up with all kinds of solutions when you would ask them.

The following set-up has been in my mind since visiting a dry Greek island and wondering why it wasn’t lush and green. Of course get rid of the goats as well and replace them with less destructive grazers, but, the scheme to desalinate and transport water uphill can also be used for agriculture in the larger desert.

My visit to that dry Greek Island was before the creation of Google. Now, with Google, we can see that more people have thought of schemes like below.

Compliments for example are for “Postonic” who has better drawing skills and who also explains various steps, so that I do not have to explain what a “heat pipe” is. Well, a heat pipe essentially is a pipe that you keep hot, preferably by sunlight, so that the contents keep flowing.

There is a difference though. My idea is to vaporize seawater at the entry of the heat pipe, and transport the steam vapor, while Postonic apparently intends to transport seawater, with thus a later stage of desalination. But if the salt affects his pipes, he may also first desalinate and then transport condensed water. Thus, here is my sketch, and compare it to Postonic’s set-up. I am tempted to believe that it would be easier to transport steam vapor than water, with the later condensation stage also helping in sucking the vapor along. All these are technical issues that I have no experience with. I also thank Postonic for introducing me to the term “thermosiphon“.

Bringing water to the desert (own set-up)

Bringing water to the desert (own set-up)

Of course zillions of people have been thinking along these lines. The Sahara Forest Project looks fabulous, see also its official website. Fortunately, one of the projects is in Qatar, so that they are not only building superfluous soccer stadiums. Also the USA has an interest in the approach, as the Colorado river apparently isn’t enough for Los Angeles anymore. See also a group at the Johnson Foundation. There is the obviously related Delft water purification pyramid or water tent.

Of course, the issue is decades old, see this 1994 article in Dutch that warns about water shortages, and that also mentions the transport of icebergs as an easy way to take advantage of the temperature differences of the globe. Those icebergs are there anyway and melt anyhow. Perhaps the artist Christo knows about strong plastic films to pack the icebergs so that the melting water isn’t lost (and can be pumped into an accompanying tanker). Apparently Christo made a picture of an iceberg but didn’t pack it yet.

I was triggered to draw above Greek island water supply idea because of an article by Francesca de Chatel. Apparently that 1994 warning on shortages is now turning into a reality. There is also this recent NASA report on water shortages in the Middle East.

Francesca argues that it has an effect in Syria. Her page 10: “The culture of secrecy around water has engendered a chain of mechanisms that weakens the system.”

Thus, let above Greek island water supply idea no longer be a secret. The nations in the Middle East can now co-operate and turn their deserts into veritable oases.

But we may wonder whether “secrecy” is the real problem. The Middle East rather is a failed region, compared to which the European Union is a model of effectiveness and efficiency. The revenues from oil reduce the sense of urgency.  A Thomas Piketty type of inequality causes the elite to neglect the common people. American subsidies for wheat imports in Egypt support a population explosion that becomes unsustainable. Learning the Koran by heart is admirable but isn’t quite adequate education to support a modern state that needs engineers and docters. West and East have been meddling in the region in irrational manner. Syria is a huge scandal of overall incompetence and brutality. But let me not digress from the topic of bringing water to the desert. Perhaps a Middle East Sun & Water Authority can create a core like the earlier European Coal and Steel Community.

Addendum: (1) Aquaver is a commercial outfit that uses membranes and surplus heat from electricity generation.  (2) Some use nets to capture dew and fog while here are “warka towers“. (3) Max Whisson has two setups: (a) seawater pipes like Postonic, (b) a windmill, that however meets with severe criticism at abc and skepticforum. (4) Some other people advocate population control.

Some Greek island pictures (and perhaps try to spot the goats):


Psalida Samiopoula, Samos island (courtesy Efpalinos, wikipedia)


Myrtos Beach, Kefalonia island (courtesy Matt Sims, wikipedia)


View from Mount Zas, Naxos island (courtesy Jerome Lafrechoux, wikipedia)


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