Too Much Water in the Oceans

Author: Eimar M. Boesjes
First: January 1, 2007
Last: February 2, 2007

Abstract

Over the next few centuries low-lying countries, cities and natural habitat will be lost to the oceans as coastlines are redefined by rising sea level. The purpose of this web site is to promote ideas for transporting excess river water from water-rich continents to arid continents on a massive scale for several hundred years. By reducing the amount of water returned to the oceans the rise of the sea levels is reduced and the cities may be saved.

By using diverted water to create new green agricultural zones we increase the amount of CO2 stored in plants and simultaneously remove CO2 from the atmosphere.  This by itself may be a (small) factor in slowing the pace of global warming and rising sea levels.  The freshwater can also be used to replenish aquifers and depleted lakes and restore these natural artifacts that man has destroyed over time.  The costs for this massive water diversion are enormous but they are dwarfed by the benefits. It is impossible to construct a complete cost analysis of massively moving freshwater between continents but I feel it is far cheaper than increasing dikes and beaches to keep the water out.  Economically, the costs are easily justified by preventing the loss of many cities and the associated expenses of moving hundreds of millions of people to dryer areas.  The environmental impact of transporting massive amounts of water from one part of the world to another will be substantial, but again, less detrimental than building countless additional sea barriers worldwide or moving hundreds of millions of people. 

Scientists belief that global warming is the cause of the rise in the sea levels. My proposal does not address the causes of global warming but rather deals with one specific effect, albeit one that will affect billions of people in the centuries to come.  This proposal is not a substitute for reducing the output of CO2 and other green house gases nor is it a reason to reduce pollution control and energy conservation efforts.  My proposal can be combined simultaneously with all other efforts to reduce global warming and limit its effects

Rising Sea Levels

Over the last century sea levels have risen considerably. The actual rise of the of the sea levels are hard to measure as land masses have risen and exact data and advanced measurement technologies were not available. Estimates vary between a sea level rise of 15 and 25 centimeters over the last century. The sea levels are expected to rise further in the future. Of course, predictions about the future vary even more; some experts predict a rise of only 15 cm by 2100, others predict a rise of 140 cm. The 2007 IPCC report estimates that the sea levels will rise between 18 and 66 cm by 2100. I have found no predictions of a rise of less than 15 cm and most experts seem to agree that the speed of the rise will increase in the centuries to come. If the icecap over Greenland were to melt completely, for instance, sea levels would increase by 700 cm. For the calculations in my proposals I have used the average of the IPCC of 42 cm by 2100, which comes to 0.45cm per year. Most experts attribute the rise of the sea levels to global warming. The biggest increase seems to come from an expansion of the water as a result of an increase of the temperature of the seas.In addition the ice caps and glaciers of the world are melting and adding water to the seas. Most scientists agree that the increase in temperature is a result of global warming, which results from an increase of CO2 levels in the atmosphere. Other scientists feel that this causality is not proven. For my proposal it is actually irrelevant what the cause is of the rise of the sea levels. The fact that they are rising is not disputed. It is also clear that a rise in sea levels will, eventually, inundate many cities and result in enormous costs. The only fact that seems to be in dispute is how quickly the levels will rise.The question seems to be whether we have 50 years or 350 years to fix it.

When sea levels raise cities in low lying delta areas will be inundated first.Especially hard hit are the large population centers in the Netherlands, Northern Germany, Bangladesh, the US East Coast around New York, southern Florida, the Nile delta in Egypt, the Mekong delta in Vietnam, the Yangtze delta in China, the Indus delta in Pakistan and the Mississippi delta in the US. Cities that will disappear include Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Bremen, Hamburg, Venice, Alexandria, Basra, Shanghai, Bangkok, Ho Chi Min City, New Orleans, Key West, Atlantic City, parts of Newark and Jersey City, as well as Long Beach in New York.  There is a great website to study the effects of a rise in sea levels. I do not know how accurate the underlying data is, but for a great visual impression of the worldwide effect of the increase of sea levels visit  http://flood.firetree.net/. This site allows you to zoom in on different areas in the world and see what cities and areas will be inundated at different sea level increases.

Changing Weather Patterns

Over the last few decades the wet regions have started to receive more rain, and the dry regions such as the Sahara have started to receive less rain. Many scientists argue that this is not an anomaly but this is a result of changing weather patterns as a result of global warming.

Scientists have created computer models to predict future weather patterns if global warming continues, as is to be expected. Most models point towards the same general conclusion. The wet regions will receive more rain in the wet seasons and less in their dry seasons. Dry areas will receive less rain, become dryer and reduce the availability of water for drinking and agriculture.Fewer and fewer regions will have sufficient water. The UN predicts that by 2050 less than half of the world population will live in an area with sufficient water.

The problems in the wet areas are just as big. Computer models predict an increase of 40% of the precipitation in the Rhine watershed during the wet season. In its current state it is impossible for this river to move all this water.This means that many cities along the Rhine will be inundated regularly during the rainy seasons. Germany and the Netherlands will need to address this by re-engineering the outer banks and increasing the ability to process 40% more water without flooding the cities and agricultural areas on regular basis.

Evaporation and Precipitation

Water undergoes a complex hydrological cycle. Seawater evaporates and forms freshwater clouds. Clouds move. If cloud temperatures decrease the amount of water that a cloud can contain drops and it starts raining. Most of the rain falls at sea. Some of the rain falls on land and streams back to the sea in streams and rivers. What I propose is to take a portion of the rainfall during the wet seasons and transport this to dry regions. Let’s first do a calculation to see if this can actually make an impact on the sea levels.

The total surface area of the oceans is approximately 361,800,000 square kilometers. An increase of 1 centimeter in the sea levels equates to 3,618 billion cubic meters of water or 3,618 cubic kilometers of water. Here’s my math:

Sea Surface Area (km2)

361,800,000

Cubic meters per square kilometer * 1 cm

10,000

m3 / sea surface area * .01m

3,618,000,000,000

km3 / sea surface area * .01m

3,618


This means that if we can prevent 3,618 cubic kilometers of water to reach the sea we slow down the increase of the sea levels with 1 centimeter.

Now let’s take a look at the amount of water that is transported to the sea annually by the fifty largest rivers in the world.

Worlds Largest Rivers by Annual Flow Volume

 

 

 

 

 

No

River

 Volume (km3/yr)

Country

 

 

 

 

1

Amazon

                    6,642

Obidos, Brazil

2

Congo

                    1,308

Kinshasa, Congo

3

Orinoco

                    1,129

Pte Angostu, Venezuela

4

Changjiang

                      944

Datong, China

5

Brahmaputra

                      628

Bahadurabad, Bangladesh

6

Mississippi

                      610

Vicksburg, USA

7

Yenisey

                      599

Igarka, Russia

8

Paraná

                      568

Timbues, Argentina

9

Lena

                      531

Kusur, Russia

10

Mekong

                      525

Pakse, Laos

11

Tocantins

                      511

Tucurui, Brazil

12

Tapajos

                      415

Jatoba, Brazil

13

Ob

                      412

Salekhard, Russia

14

Ganges

                      404

Farakka, India

15

Irrawaddy

                      393

Sagaing, Myanmar(Burm

16

St Lawrence

                      363

Cornwall ON, USA

17

Amur

                      354

Komsomolsk, Russia

18

Xingu

                      302

Altamira, Brazil

19

Mackenzie

                      290

Arctic Red, Canada

20

Xijiang

                      270

Wuzhou, China

21

Columbia

                      252

The Dalles, USA

22

Magdalena

                      231

Calamar, Colombia

23

Uruguay

                      228

Concordia, Argentina

24

Yukon

                      212

Pilot Stn, Alaska

25

Atrato

                      204

Tagachi, Colombia

26

Danube

                      202

Ceatal Izma, Romania

27

Niger

                      193

Gaya, Niger

28

Ogooué

                      186

Lambaréné, Gabon

29

Essequibo

                      154

Plantain Is, Guyana

30

Fraser

                      144

Hope, Canada

31

Pechora

                      140

Oksino, Russia

32

Nelson

                      126

u/s Bladder, Canada

33

Khatanga

                      124

Khatanga, Russia

34

Sepik

                      123

Ambunti, Papua New Gu

35

Kolyma

                      118

Kolymskoye, Russia

36

Zambeze

                      117

Matundo-Cai, Mozambique

37

Severnaya D

                      112

Ust Pinega, Russia

38

Indus

                      104

Kotri, Pakistan

39

Sanaga

                        99

Edéa, Cameroon

40

Godavari

                        97

Polavaram, India

41

Rajang

                        93

Kapit Wharf, Malaysia

42

Sao Francis

                        90

Traipu, Brazil

43

Usumacinta

                        89

Boca del Ce, Mexico

44

Maroni

                        86

Langa Tabbe, Surinam

45

Rhine

                        75

Lobith, Netherlands

46

Purari

                        74

Wabo Dam, Papua New Gu

47

Caniapiscau

                        73

Chute de la, Canada

48

Mahanadi

                        73

Kaimundi, India

49

Sacramento

                        69

Sacramento, USA

50

Jacui

                        69

Passo do Ra, Brazil

 

 

 

 

Total 50 Largest Rivers:

                  21,155

 

All Rivers:

                  42,600

 


This shows that the fifty largest rivers combined transport 21,155 cubic kilometers of water to the oceans annually. All rivers in the world combined transport 42,600 cubic kilometers of water annually.If we use the IPCC average of 0.45 cm per year, we need to prevent 1,630 cubic kilometers of water from reaching the oceans (0.45 * 3,618 = 1,630) to keep the sea levels at the current level. This comes to just under 4% of all water streaming into the oceans.

If none of this water would ever reach the oceans again, then this 0.45 centimeter decrease per year would be permanent. However, this is not the case; most of this water will eventually reach the oceans again. To measure the permanent effect of diverting 1,630 cubic kilometers in a year we need to know where this water will go and what percentage will reach the oceans over what time period. To better understand this we need to know where the water is stored.

Where is the Water?

Approximately 97.5% of all the water in the world resides in the Oceans as salt water. With the exception of the very top layer of water in the oceans that is subject to evaporation this water is, effectively, not part of the hydrological cycle and it is not relevant to our discussion. The remaining 2.5% of the water is freshwater. This water resides in polar icecaps, glaciers, aquifers, lakes, rivers, streams and groundwater. A percentage is stored, temporarily, in organisms such as plants and people. Some of the water can be found, even more temporarily, in clouds. In theory all stored freshwater is in transition in the hydrological cycle and will eventually become part of the oceans again. However, the water in icecaps, glaciers, and aquifers is, historically, stored for a very long time, often thousands of years. This time scale is so large that for our purposes this freshwater is effectively stored permanently outside of the oceans. The freshwater in lakes, groundwater, rivers, and organisms is stored for a much shorter time. Much of this water will soon become part of the oceans again. Therefor diverting water to aquifers is more efficient than diverting it to lakes or groundwater.

Over the last few centuries or so we have been taking freshwater out of lakes, aquifers, and groundwater on such a large scale that the amount of water stored in these places has been reduced dramatically. We used this water for agriculture or consumption and after it was used we let it stream back into the oceans. We basically converted freshwater that nature had stored into seawater. This means that some of the historical storage space for freshwater is now not being used. We need to reduce the amount of water in the oceans and what we should do is refill these historical freshwater storage reservoirs wherever possible. Of course we need to refill these natural freshwater reservoirs with freshwater only. In a way, what I propose is a global replumbing to undo some of the damage that we have done over the last centuries.

Any water that we can store in aquifers is, literally, taken out of circulation. We can say that the ‘diversion efficiency’ of aquifers is 100%. The water that we can store in lakes, groundwater or even in organisms is delayed in its return to the oceans and reduces the sea levels only temporarily. The diversion efficiency of transporting water to arid regions for agricultural use is clearly much lower than using it to replenish aquifers. I have no data about what percentage of the water stored in lakes, groundwater or plants will return to the oceans in how many years. This clearly depends on many factors such as how it is used, how it is transported, and what the climate is of the area where the water is stored. I also have no estimates on how much water we can store away permanently in aquifers so I don’t know what percentage of the diverted water will be taken out permanently, and what percentage will be diverted for a shorter period. For the sake of argument I assume that the average ‘diversion efficiency’ is 50%. With this I mean that 50% of the water that we divert will make it back into the oceans in the next few decades and will not have a permanent effect of reducing the rise of the sea levels. This means we need to double the amount of water that we divert to keep the same long term effect. With this assumption we need to divert 3,260 cubic kilometers of water annually to reach the goal of reducing the rise by 0.45 cm every year.

Sample Interventions

What I am proposing is catching water in the rainy seasons in the wet regions, transporting this water to dry regions and using this in a way so that only a small percentage returns to the oceans. I suggest doing this on a massive scale, never before done by humans. Moving large amounts water over large distances is expensive. >We will need to build a system of canals or pipes to move the water over land and we will need to develop technology to move water through seas efficiently on a massive scale. Ideally water is moved a distance that is as short as possible. I will describe some hypothetical projects below.

1. Europe

An area that is in great need of water is the North Africa and the countries around the Sahara. The Netherlands and Germany have a wet-season surplus that will only increase. Both countries are rich and both will be affected by rising sea levels strongly. Both already need to address the problems of flooding of their rivers. The distance from Germany to North Africa is relatively short, 2,000 km. Of course the Alps need to be circumvented and the Mediterranean will need to be crossed. It should be possible to build a system of canals and waterworks to store Rhine water in the wet season, pump it to southern France or Italy and build massive pipelines to pump it underneath the Mediterranean to the North African Coast. Once in Algeria or Tunisia land and labor are relatively inexpensive and a further distribution system can be built. The current annual volume of the Rhine is about 75 cubic kilometers. The Rhine is expected to have a wet season capacity increase of 40% as a result of global warming. If we would be able to move 25 cubic kilometers of water annually to North Africa we achieve just under 1% of our goal of reducing the increase of the sea levels by 0.45 centimeter per year. Using additional surplus water from the Maas in the Belgium, the Elbe in Germany, the Rhone in France and the Po in Italy could increase the volume.

2. Africa

A project that would be less expensive and allow for a much larger volume is taking water out of the Congo River during the wet seasons and transporting this to the Saharan countries or to Namibia. The distance from the Congo River to Namibia is roughly 1,500 – 2,000 km., and the distance from the Congo River to the Sahara is around 1,500 to 2,500 km. No seas need to be crossed and land and labor are relatively inexpensive. The largest problem is the political instability of some of the countries. The Congo is the second largest river in the world with a volume of 1,300 cubic kilometer of water. By diverting 25% of the volume during the wet season (300 cubic kilometers), we can achieve 10% of the diversion needs.

3. Russia

Russia hosts eight of the largest 50 rivers. At the same time it contains a sea that has lost a lot of its water, the Aral Sea, because it has diverted much of the water in the river that feeds it. If it restores this river and starts using water from other rivers it can replenish the storage in the Aral Sea. In addition it could divert water to dryer countries such as Mongolia, Kazakhstan or Northern China.

4. North America

In the US the Mississippi is the sixth largest river in the world with a volume of 600 cubic kilometer. The river has major flooding problems. In Texas, barely 1,000 kilometers to the east the aquifers have been depleted so much that the land has sunken in many areas. Mexico to the south of Texas has a severe water shortage. If 20% of the Mississippi water was diverted in the wet season, 100 cubic kilometers of water could be diverted which is close to 3% of the goal. By replenishing the aquifers in Texas some of this water is taken out of the hydrological cycle permanently.

The U.S. has a number of lakes that have been emptied or partially emptied. Owens Lake in eastern California, for instance, has been emptied completely by using its feeder streams for drink water and irrigation in Los Angeles. The lake is now being partially restored. By finding alternative water sources for Los Angeles the lake could be entirely restored. There are many other lakes in the US that can be refilled. The advantage of refilling lakes as compared to diverting water for irrigation is that the water will be kept out of the oceans for a much longer time. The Pacific coast of Northern California, Oregon and Washington are among the wettest areas in the world. Climate predictions suggest that rainfall will increase dramatically on the Pacific coast in the next century. A portion of this extra water could be used for irrigation in the dry eastern regions of these states and this water could be used for the dry cities along the Pacific coast in southern California and Mexico.

5. India

India has major problems providing drink water to its population even in areas where there is ample rain. Most of the rains fall in a short time during the monsoon season. India has no system to store this water and use it for human consumption or irrigation. This means that most of this water streams unused to the oceans, often wreaking havoc on the way. By creating a system to store some of this water in the wet season and use it in the dry season the amount of water that is returned to the oceans can be reduced, and human life can be improved dramatically.

6. Arabian Peninsulas

In Saudi Arabia and other desert nations the aquifers have been used relentlessly over the last century to provide water for people and plants. By restoring the aquifers water could be taken out of permanent circulation. During monsoons water could be collected in India and other areas in South East Asia and transported to the Arabian subcontinent. This water could also be used to provide water for human consumption and agriculture.

7. South America

The Amazon is by far the largest river in the world by volume. Each year it transports 6,600 cubic kilometers of water to the Atlantic Ocean.  If we were able to divert 20% of this water to arid regions we would move 1,320 cubic kilometers and achieve 40% of our goal.

Financing

The rich countries with large cities in low lying areas such as the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, and the US have, quite literally, the most to lose. The combined value of the real estate and infrastructure of the cities in these countries that will be inundated is immense.Trillions of dollars in real estate value will be lost if people have to abandon the cities that will be inundated. This means that these countries have a strong incentive to start financing the construction of large-scale water diversion projects that will reduce the rise of the sea levels.

It is reasonable to levy a tax on real estate if that means that the properties will maintain their value long term. Once property owners understand that their real estate will lose its value entirely within 50, 100 or 200 years if no action is taken they will accept such a tax. It is also possible to tax energy consumption since it seems that energy consumption is partly responsible for the rising sea levels. Once the most affected rich countries take the lead, establish a large fund and start the first projects other rich and poor countries can be convinced to participate since they share a part of the responsibility.

The IPCC estimates that ultimately 300 million people will need to be moved if the sea levels continue to rise. If we conservatively estimate the cost of buying land and rebuilding cities, factories, roads and technical infrastructure, as well as the actual moving costs at $200,000 per person then this cost comes to $60 trillion ($60,000,000,000,000). Apart from the misery and the cultural loss that result from having to abandon all the cities built in deltas it may be prudent from a purely financial perspective to start investing in reducing the increase of the sea levels. The sooner we start, the less expensive it will be.

Other Benefits

There are clear other benefits of replenishing aquifers, emptied lakes, and groundwater, and providing water in poor dry regions for human consumption or agriculture.

Aquifers have a function. One that we probably do not yet understand, and it is not wise to empty them. By refilling aquifers we may restore a water cycle that we not yet comprehend. By refilling lakes that have been emptied we restore nature and we make fishing possible again. By restoring groundwater levels we restore nature and plant life. By providing water to humans in dry regions we prevent suffering. By providing freshwater for irrigation in poor dry regions we create the foundation for an agricultural economy in poor and arid countries. By converting dry regions to agriculture or nature we add areas where plants clean the air and we may offset some of the loss of the tropical rain forests.

Many of these effects by themselves justify diverting the water. However, I am not focusing on these humanitarian and ecological benefits for a reason. None of these reasons will convince the rich nations to finance the extremely expensive undertaking of diverting water on a massive scale. The certain loss of the valuable land and real estate in the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, the United States and China will be ample justification to put in place financing and start this undertaking.As we have seen it will take decades to for this to make an impact. If we start now we may be able to save our low-lying cities one or two centuries from now.