Can a Desert and Pumps Stop Sea Level Rise?

“Four o’clock in the morning I’m at, ‘Jesus, that’s not very much.’ I mean, I had this image of what it was and how much the sea level was rising. And I knew there was thermal expansion and all this, and that’s not very much. And then I realized, my God, we can stop sea-level rise.”

-Carl Hodges on American Public Media’s Marketplace today

On the commute home tonight I listened to an engaging story about Carl Hodges who wants to use the drained coastal aquifers as giant storage tanks for any increase in the world’s oceans.

Read and/or Listen to the Story

“Hodges says the process is not only safe, but it would actually boost the remaining freshwater supply further inland. And he’s got the science to back it up.”

What do you think? Can we prevent sea level rise with pumps and an empty aquifer?

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  1. Sounds like an intriguing idea – probably very possible. I work in the groundwater industry, and from experience, the aquifers are dramatically larger than one really thinks is possible.

  2. I am unsure that Hodges has the science to back up his claims. Surely, he sounds like he has the biology down. The hydrology and engineering? Those are other matters.Let’s do some calculations. The world’s oceans cover 361,000,000 square km. Let’s be conservative and assume a 0.33 m (approximately one foot) sea level rise. That produces 120,000 km3 of sea water to be stored in aquifers. When you consider that the total amount of ground water pumped in the USA during the entire 20th century was about 700-800 km3 (see Konikow and Kendy, 2005, Hydrogeology Journal, 13(1):317-320) you have a lot of water to store. Also to be considered is the difficulty of putting water into the ground – the adverse chemical reactions, air binding, aquifer plugging, etc. And remember that I assumed a relatively conservative sea-level rise – just 0.33 m.Hodges’ approach might work on a small-scale, case-by-case basis. It is worth investigating in such instances.

  3. I’d take the groundwater pumping figures with a grain of salt – most states don’t report any data outside of municipal wells, agriculture wells are haphazardly tracked, and it’s more than likely a best guess sort of figure.Alternatively, I get your point. As far as using it to recharge the aquifers – I believe that in drilling & pumping oil wells, development companies use a tactic similar to this – pumping hot water and or gas into the formation to force the oil out. It’s a pretty well accepted technique. Being that salt water is heavier, one could use the same technique by pumping the salt water below the fresh water & hydraulically lifting the fresh water up…..I’m not sure how well it would work in a confined aquifer – such as a rock formation….but it’s definitely interesting.One should note that the earth has an estimated 23,400,000 cubic km of ground water available (not always fresh). And that it is a recharging resource. Most of the time, we’re only touching the surface when it comes to ground water resources. I’ve spoken with oil drillers that say there are aquifers with thousands of gallons per minute of flow at about 5000 to 6000 feet near my area (WA State, USA)- while all the water wells are 1500 feet deep or less (99% are about 500ft or less). another source….

  4. Hi, Pierce.The GW pumpage figures are of course an order-of-magnitude estimate, just like the total annual world pumpage of 1,000 km3. Your estimate of total GW in storage is also a SWAG with even more uncertainty.What’s important, as you discerned, is the comparison to the amount of sea water to be recharged. It’s a tremendous amount of fluid to stick into the ground, far more than is pumped out each year or is injected by the hydrocarbon companies or ASR.And keep in mind that Hodges wants to put all this water into coastal aquifers, a relatively small fraction of the world’s land area/available aquifers.But worth considering locally, as in the case he cited.

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