Effects of greening the Australian desert?

So you’re an eccentric young mega-billionaire looking to become even richer. You buy the Australian desert and semi-arid areas. All of it. Basically almost everything from the Tanami Desert south and the Sturt Sony Desert west. You build nuclear and solar-powered desalination plants on the coast and pump fresh water inland to irrigate your new land. Rivers in reverse. You turn the desert green.

What is going to be the effect on the climate of the rest of Australia? Of the world?

IANAClimatologist/meteorologist or any other kind of ‘ologist’ but I imagine it would have rather major effects upon the foodbelt on the eastern seaboard. Greening the inland areas would of course create increased precipitative events east (that’s generally the way the weather goes), and the Great Dividing Range might well take even greater dumps of wet stuff, rendering those areas east useless for anything but rainforest reserves.

This would then have flow-on effects for New Zealand, and perhaps temps in the Pacific Ocean thereby affecting much of the Americas as well. Or maybe not?

But as I said, IANAC/m/any other ologist, so I’ll wait for someone like Blake to chime in if that’s OK. :smiley:

Good luck with that one! :dubious:

Well, it ain’t for sale, at any price.

However, something along those lines has been suggested and discussed in the media by politicians here. I don’t know how serious they currently are about it, but it has been put forward as a serious plan quite a few times over the decades.

I’m no expert either, but it is my understanding that the arid/semi-arid areas in Australia don’t have the soil profile that would make agriculture or forestry viable, even if you had enough water.

All the camels would have to learn to swim.

Don’t you mean koalas?

No koalas in the deserts. Plenty of bloody camels. They have to be culled.

That would be my guess. The “soil” is probably very low in organic matter and no matter how much water you pump onto sand, you still have wet sand. Over years and years and years you could have plants that’ll take that sandy soil growing and dying and adding to the amount of loam but you can’t just add water and make an instant temperate-style greenbelt. You also want an amount of clay in there for holding nutrients and water but I don’t know what the actual profile there is in Australia to say how much of an issue it’d be.

One possible problem. I understand that the mineral rich dust blowing off deserts can enrich the soil elsewhere when it settles. So greening the desert may hurt plant life downwind.

You wipe out the unique desert adapted flora and fauna that already exists there. Thanks. :dubious:

Scale of the OP is astonishing.

Have a look at the size of the Ord River Scheme and how much desert it greens.
Or the fabled pipeline from the Kimberley to Perth.

You are talking of a land mass around 2/3rd the size of the lower 48.
If you applied just 1 ML/ha of water (5-10ML/Ha is more usual, and given the evaporation rates you’d waste most of that) and didn’t lose any water in the transfer from coast to inland, you’d need say 300mil ML.

The world’s desal capacity is about 70mil M3 or 70k ML.

So the scenario is away from conceptually possible by 4 orders of magnitude.

Were it to be done, it’s climatic effect would be similar to having a second Amazon basin.

Well yes. Hence my asking about the global effect.

Where the hell would Koalas live in a desert? Seriously. You think they burrow underground to escape the midday sun or what?

I can’t really say anything about the actual deserts, but for the semi-arid parts, look at the US Great Plains. It was once fairly similar to the grasslands of Australia-- it was a semi-arid grassland that routinely goes into full arid during periods of drought. It is, however, a very rich agricultural region because of the huge Oglalla aquifer. The aquifer isn’t recharging as fast as they’re using it, but for the moment the situation is essentially like your OP-- it’s a huge region that gets far too little moisture for farming (it was once known as the “Great American Desert”) but produces because there is, at the moment, an unlimited supply of water.

I don’t think there’s any climate effects with current farming practices used in the region, but there was this unpleasantness: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dust_Bowl

If it was done using normal desal processes, the biggest immediate effect I can think of would be massive coastal water problems from increased salinity. Huge ecosystem dieoffs and all that.


There was a political party formed to do this once, IIRC in the 1980s. They called themselves the Engineering Australia Party, and their platform was to build a man-made mountain range across the middle of Australia, running north-south. This would act like the Rockies or Andes and cause rain to fall on the western slopes, greening the inland. They never addressed soil quality or the fact that much of the western slopes of the Rockies and Andes are if anything rain-shadows. Oh, and all heavy industry in Australia was going to be moved inside the mountain range to contain its pollution.

This was going to be paid for by doing a thorough geological survey of the entire Australian continent to locate all mineral resources, and so exploit them. Again, no mention of how flooding the world market with more resources that it wanted to buy would affect the price and so the economics of this whole deal.

I convinced everyone I knew to vote for them in that election, but I think my circle of friends contributed most of their vote-count.

The Australian desert is extremely poor in all senses. The only common “mineral” there is iron ore and that won’t enrich anything (aside from the oceans of course). Here’s what happened to Sydney when the desert dust came to town. We’ve had no active volcanoes for (IIRC) 150 million years, so the soil has been extremely depleted over that period.

You become a Terra former and in the context of greening inland Australia it is something we simply must do! We have an opportunity to make Australia the food bowl for the rest of the world. In the long term effects, apart from creating enormous wealth for Australia, creating new cities and tows through out outback Australia, decentralising the Australian coastal fringe. If we did this, in the long term it would become self sustaining. It would create its own eco system and weather patterns would change inline to create rain fall in areas never thought possible. We would create our own environmental change or Terra Forming. I am sure there would be down sides to doing this but the up sides of doing this would far out way the down. I recently seen a comment someone made when someone suggested filling Lake Are. The said, “Forget it, It has filled before from flood water flowing into it but it only last 2 to 3 years and then it is dry again”. How narrow and small our vision has become, 3 years? My God, what I propose will most likely take a minimum of 50 years but more likely the true effects and benefits wont be felt for 100 years+. What we would be doing for our children’s children would benefit them on a scale that can not be imagined. The flow on effects to industry and the Australian economy would be enormous

If I’m rich and want to get richer, I don’t do anything like a the OP suggests, which sounds like an excellent way to make a small fortune…out of a large fortune.

Another variation of the Bradfield scheme.

Because of the poor soil quality you’ll never turn the desert area into fertile agricultural land just by adding water. You could potentially grow lots of trees around the water and bring back a form of forest, whether that would have any overall environmental benefit anywhere, I don’t know.