Can The Sahara Forest Project Turn The Desert Into An Oasis?

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The Sahara Desert is one of the world's largest and driest deserts. Encompassing 3,500,000 km or about 10% of the continent of Africa, the desert comprises of miles and miles of sand dunes, an environment in which very little can thrive. However, a radical new idea may soon transform it into an agricultural oasis!

The mission of the Sahara Forest Project is to turn the arid desert into a self-sustaining open greenhouse that will draw water from the atmosphere and energy from the sun. While this may sound like a far-fetched idea, advocates argue that the technologies already exist and all that needs to be done, is implement them.

The idea that has been proposed since 2008, finally became a reality last month, when Norway'sYara International ASA and the Qatar Fertilizer Company came together to provide the $5.3 million USD needed to build the pilot project.

While the Sahara desert may lack fresh water, it has plenty of access to seawater - Red Sea on the east, Atlantic Ocean on the west and the Mediterranean Sea on the north. It is therefore not surprising that salt water is the cornerstone of this project.

In order to provide the right environment for the plants, seawater will be pumped all around the greenhouse so that the hot desert air entering it will be cool and humid before it gets to the plants. This humid air which will nourish the plants as it flows along, will be collected in evaporating tubes also kept cool by seawater. This in turn, will cause the water in the collected air to condense and the fresh water droplets will be tranferred to a special storage tank and used to sustain the plants.

As the rest of the air exits the greenhouse, it will be met by protective hedges, that will keep it cool before it finally escapes into the hot desert air. This will help keep the temperature inside the greenhouse from heating up even during the day, allowing the plants to thrive.

To harness solar energy, the center is testing the use of concentrated solar power, whereby mirrors will direct the sunlight onto the water pipes and boilers. This will result in superheated steam being created inside the pipes, which in turn will power the steam turbine and help generate electricity. Any excess power produced will be distributed to the surrounding local communities.

As seems to be the case with most of our best ideas, this one too was inspired by nature - In this case the mighty camel. In order to survive in the scorching desert, the camel's nostrils are constantly condensing water from the air. The animal not only catches the moisture from the humid warm air it breaths in, but also, from the moist air that it breaths out. The designers of the Sahara Greenhouse are hoping to achieve the same kind of water catching efficienty for this pilot project.

Construction of the 10,000-square-foot greenhouse will begin in Qatar within a few weeks. If all goes well it should be ready by November 2012, just in time for the United Nations Climate Change conference scheduled to be held in Doha, at the end of the year. If the project is successful, it will be replicated across the desert, which would not only help reverse climate change, but also, provide much needed fresh produce, for the surrounding African countries.

Resources: news.nationalgeographic.com, wired.co.uk, dailymail.co.uk

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149 Comments
  • Lydia HoweTuesday, October 3, 2017 at 6:25 am
    I like this website it teaches me a lot. 😜
    • Lauren Monday, October 2, 2017 at 7:41 am
      This is cool, thx!
      • Jamie Sunday, September 24, 2017 at 8:41 pm
        I say this could work, but I would grow the trees and bring in a river system. I would allow a forest of such establish. In hopes of bringing in a rainforest. You may loose some desert animals, but imagine the ones that can come back. We have learned about growing trees and such along time ago. Yet no one will yield to the fact that it needs to be done and now our grand children are gong to suffer over our laziness.
        • wolfdog
          wolfdogMonday, September 24, 2018 at 7:41 am
          I agree @Jamie. But it seems a bit odd how we could plant trees in the desert, and then forever keep the trees occupied with this oddly massive man-made greenhouse. First, I would suggest, you grow the trees first. Then you build a river. HOWEVER. I do NOT want the Sahara to become a full forest. The desert is home to many desert animals, I think it'd be best if they'd only implement a forest near the ocean, or in a specific location. This way the Sahara won't be so empty, yet at the same time can still be Mother Nature's natural habitat and host plenty of desert critters! (Why erase Nature's natural terrain?)
        • blessedkarl
          blessedkarlThursday, November 3, 2016 at 9:32 am
          I think it will benefit us and may benefit animals but will negatively impact the desert organisms.
          • :DWednesday, October 12, 2016 at 6:49 am
            What will happen to thE animal
            • JoeWednesday, October 12, 2016 at 6:46 am
              WHAT ABOUT ALL THE ANIMALS!_!
              • Hello Thursday, January 21, 2016 at 3:09 pm
                Wow! Some of these comments are from about a year ago! Even three years ago! @Bigmelo, you seem like a nice person. @Nikukyu too!
                • :lSunday, August 23, 2015 at 11:34 am
                  if this works...
                  • bigmelo
                    bigmeloFriday, February 6, 2015 at 5:47 pm
                    Hopefully this idea won't make people stranded in the middle of the desert think they're having a hallucination. :)
                    • nikukyu
                      nikukyuSaturday, February 7, 2015 at 3:53 am
                      Lol you are REALLY funny-and nice bigmelo!:D.
                      • bigmelo
                        bigmeloSaturday, February 7, 2015 at 11:28 am
                        Really? I never saw myself that way before. Thanks a lot! :)
                        • kobwebby
                          kobwebbyWednesday, November 18, 2015 at 3:49 pm
                          ha ha- that put a funny image in my mind :) I literally imagine the people looking at the giant building and smashing into it thinking its an illusion
                    • bettert han youTuesday, September 30, 2014 at 10:49 am
                      sweet