Could we "Terraform" Australia?:

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So this article on islands of biodiversity in the Australian outback explains that at one point, Australia was covered with nothing but tropical rainforests, but then the continent was cut off from warm water currents when South America split from Antarctica and the new cold-water polar currents drove away the heat pump that once fed Australia abundant rain. Australia also underwent further desertification due to the fact that it is one of the oldest landmasses on the planet - nearly flat, and much of its mineral nutriment has been eroded away due to time. Also, rabbits are killing the continent, by chewing all the grass down to the roots and generally wreaking havoc on an already threatened ecosystem.

That got me to thinking - we can probably fix all three of those problems ourselves, with a little technological investment. And here's how!:

1. Water: This is the hardest challenge for greening Australia. We'd need some way to bring fresh water into the interior on a massive scale. One obvious way is a massive desalinization + pumps scheme to pull fresh water from the oceans and pump it into the Outback, eventually flooding parts of the land to fill-in dried up fossil seabeds that once existed in Australia's interior. It would be one of the largest construction projects mankind has ever attempted, and probably require some sort of automation/advanced robotics to build the structure in a reliable way, and fusion or some other cheap energy source to make it affordable.

Another possibly cheaper method would be a network of orbiting mirrors designed to heat the oceans around Australia and increase rainfall.

And thirdly, we could possibly make use of transpiration. Even though the Amazon should be a Savannah, it is not because the plants in the region help to hold moisture and act as a positive feedback loop. Perhaps if we started planting enough trees in Australia a similar effect might occur (it would also be a great carbon sink). Keeping them alive in Outback conditions though would require a lot of fancy underground irrigation systems, which makes this one somewhat similar to the first idea of flooding the interior with fresh water.

2. Rabbits: Rabbits do so well in Australia because there aren't any native predators, and introduced foxes prey on native marsupials more often than they target the rabbits. Stopping the rabbits remains one of the top priorities for a successful terraform scheme, because otherwise they would simply eat any possible new plant growth and undermine the work. So we need more native predators, to hopefully if not eliminate then control the numbers of rabbits. So why not re-introduce the tasmanian devil, and if possible resurrect the thylacine and introduce it as well? Both species lived on the continent in recent memory, and it would mean giving the marsupials a fighting chance over the introduced placentals.

3. The last one, dealing with the low nutrient count in the soil, is easy, and something we can do right now. Just dump fertilizer all over the place. To prevent algal blooms, we could wind-disperse it in areas far away from watersheds and over a wide areas, using blimps at an altitude.

I'm sure that there's some flaws in the plan (I'm not an expert yet on ecology, so yeah, this is mostly idle exploration than concrete idea), but the gist of it is that I'm sure we could if we were willing to invest in the technology turn Australia green again. What do you all think? Should we try to reverse desertification if its feasible? What about the ethics of it all?
2 AceofSpades14th Dec 2011 07:13:05 PM , Relationship Status: [TOP SECRET]
Environments are delicate things, as the whole rabbit fiasco proves. Introducing new predators is a fucking stupid idea. Make it legal for hunters to kill as many rabbits as they want; that will keep the population down much more efficiently because humans are the apex predators in Australia. I've heard rabbit meat is pretty good. (There is also no "should be" in an environment. Either the life there adapts in ways to thrive, or it dies off.)

Also, using blimps to disperse fertilizer sounds far more like it will cause massive dust storms; as I understand it Australia has some terrible winds in the interior, though I might be wrong.

And most importantly; flooding the interior completely destroys whatever life is there currently, as deserts, even in Australia, tend to have quite a bit of life teeming around the sand. That is a fucking dumb idea. And the whole mirror thing is impractical as we can't actually do that with our current tech, and would fuck up the rest of Earth's ecosystem in the process.
[up]I'm not completely certain, but I think that its wabbit season year round, 24/7 in Australia, and the government even pays out a decent bounty. Anything short of setting traps and poisoning water supplies is allowed when it comes to rabbits, I think. It doesn't do anything to stop the rabbits, though.

Also, apex predator is the dingo; what Australia needs though are some not-apex predators, too. The thylacine and the tasmanian devil were both once part of Australia's ecosystem. The problem, though, is that the primary cause of their extinction, the dingoes, are still around. Frankly I think we should hunt dingoes (and foxes) to extinction and reintroduce marsupial predators, just because the marsupials are so damn unique and the dingoes are nothing special (they are wolves, big deal, there are plenty of wolves on this planet), but that's probably not a feasible thing.
4 USAF71314th Dec 2011 07:36:36 PM from the United States
I changed accounts.
Humans are apex predators on every continent with things to hunt. Only place we aren't apex predators is the ocean, and that's because we aren't down there enough.

Problem is, "apex" doesn't mean "able to outdo growth rates." Perhaps, if it's such a problem, they should consider using poison.

As for "terraforming" Australia, I imagine that would cause more trouble than it's worth. It might be a better bet to try and reverse some of the damage in the Sahara that we've caused and make that area more liveable, anyhow...
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5 AceofSpades14th Dec 2011 07:51:25 PM , Relationship Status: [TOP SECRET]
Well, my main thing is that it's probably better to focus on preserving Australia's ecological diversity rather than willy nilly introducing new species and drastically altering the landscape. All of the things suggested would be costly, and I can only imagine would do more harm than good. Nature has show remarkable ability to adapt just fine when we leave it alone. (Certainly, introducing foxes did not have the desired result, given there was easier to catch prey. Introducing a predator other than ourselves is going to do more harm because they'll choose the easiest to catch, where as a human hunter can choose rabbits specifically.)
6 TheEarthSheep14th Dec 2011 07:58:03 PM from a Pasture hexagon
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I always thought "terraforming" is global, and the kind of thing it covers is the introduction of a thicker/thinner atmosphere and the like, as in really huge projects, not single islands.

Just saying.

As for making Australia more habitable, honestly I think it might be a good idea, if it would work. As it stands, for our population to keep growing like it is, we're going to need some pretty serious farmland. Isn't Australia basically a big desert? If it worked, we could get significantly more food, especially because it would be away from those pesky Americans.

But I don't think climate works that way. I'm certainly no climatologist, but I don't think a significant change in the climate of an area as large as Australia could happen without drastic changes elsewhere as well.
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7 Joesolo14th Dec 2011 08:03:45 PM , Relationship Status: watch?v=dQw4w9WgXcQ
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...Why would we "terraform" natural habitat? thats redeiculous.
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[up]I'm not a climatologist either, but as I understand it the orbiting mirrors idea would work much like an el Nino event, but permanently. That isn't neccesarily a bad thing, depending on what part of the world we target.

Warm water, basically, drives cold water to the depths below - and as that cold water descends, it also displaces deep ocean currents, leading to upwelling events, and upwelling events bring fresh nutrients from the ocean floor to the ocean surface where life can make use of it.

Now, el Nino can also shut down upwelling events by moving them further north or south, starving areas that normally have higher nutrient amounts, but because the cold water polar currents around Australia have no natural upwelling events and introducing a hotspot to the region would only effect Australia, I don't think it would ruin any established ecosystems. I haven't run the models, obviously, but I think its a safe bet. The other neat thing about orbiting mirrors is we can always turn them off if there's any unforeseen consequences that we don't like.
9 Qeise15th Dec 2011 05:32:47 AM from sqrt(-inf)/0 , Relationship Status: Waiting for you *wink*
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A while back I saw a documentary on reclaiming Sahara. One of the ways introduced was pot trees where the pot gathered dew during the night when it's colder, until its roots have grown enough to get to the waters deeper down.
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The problem is we had literally millenia full of Sahara civilizations using up the ground water there already, so what "water deep down" is still left?
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The absence of a current to bring rain, and mountains to keep wind is check, Australia is a bit destined to be desert, human efforts be damned.

Of course, there is one exotic solution which I'm not sure if it would work. It was in a Hard Sci-Fi book by this writer Risto isomäki. In the book, an Egyptian billionaire wants to replenish Sahara, by building a Solar updraft tower, and aside from powering every house in a massive radius, also power pumps that will churn up seawater and project it into the sky, causing it to become rainclouds.

I don't know how feasible the idea is, but the guy usually does his research. it is a bit of a utopian idea, it would be a project on a grand scale. But still interesting thought experiment.
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Most modern biologists believe Australia only became truly dry once the aborigenes arrived there, as their intense use of wildfires to renew vegetation and attract prey eventually killed off 70% of the flora in the interior, meaning that, without sufficient evapotranspiration, the climate became much drier. The Lake Eeryie system, for example, was once a fully functional inland sea rather than the salt flats we have today.

So yes, "terraforming" Australia is a good idea.
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13 Carciofus15th Dec 2011 09:17:36 AM from Alpha Tucanae I
Is that cake frosting?
As of now, our understanding of systems ecology is nowhere as accurate as it would be required for pulling something like that without causing major disasters.

Further research and smaller-scale experiments are required. Eventually, we might become able to rewrite the ecology of a whole continent with some sort of predictability; but for now, this is beyond our capabilities.

edited 15th Dec '11 9:18:25 AM by Carciofus

But they seem to
know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas.

[up][up]That's also why I argue that we should drive the dingo to extinction. It would basically be fixing the damage done by introducing invasive species, and its something we ought to consider, because if we don't do so eventually Australia's marsupials will go extinct (just as the south American marsupials went extinct when North American placentals crossed over the Panama land-bridge).

Heck, at this point marsupials are probably already doomed, since I doubt we can remove the rabbits and camels and sheep that humans introduced.
15 AceofSpades15th Dec 2011 10:06:19 AM , Relationship Status: [TOP SECRET]
Aren't the dingoes native to Australia? Let's not talk about driving animals to extinction as an improvement tactic. That's fucking stupid.
16 Carciofus15th Dec 2011 10:17:47 AM from Alpha Tucanae I
Is that cake frosting?
Aren't the dingoes native to Australia?
No they aren't. They arrived with human settlers about 4000 years ago.

But although their introduction was disastrous for the Australian ecosystem, I am less than convinced that its extermination (assuming that it is even possible) would have a net positive effect.

For example, they replaced the thylacine and the tasmanian devil as top predators; if you kill them off, you'd need to find a way to cover that ecological role with something else, and a successful planned substitution of this kind would be insanely difficult to make.

edited 15th Dec '11 10:18:33 AM by Carciofus

But they seem to
know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas.

Adveho in mihi Lucifer
Don't remove the camels, they occupy the niche diprotodonts left.

Remove the dingoes and clone back thylacines. Also reintroduce back the tasmanian devils.

Introduce Komodo dragons because they actually evolved in Oz and only later spread to Indonesia.

Kill them rabbits, foxes, dingoes, cane toads and countless other introduced species as painfully as possible.
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18 Morven15th Dec 2011 12:43:08 PM from Seattle, WA, USA
Is it feasible to try and recreate a lost ecosystem on such a scale? I don't think so.
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19 Carciofus15th Dec 2011 01:30:46 PM from Alpha Tucanae I
Is that cake frosting?
It could be feasible, in principle, I believe — if we knew enough about ecosystems. At the moment, I don't think that we do.

Perhaps if we were talking about a smallish island, we could give it a try; but a whole continent... nah.

Plus, we cannot even clone thylacines yet.

edited 15th Dec '11 1:31:52 PM by Carciofus

But they seem to
know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas.

20 TheEarthSheep15th Dec 2011 03:13:47 PM from a Pasture hexagon
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Hold on, you lost me.

Why is it necessary to "save" animals being driven to extinction? Isn't that kind of the point of evolution?

Again, I'm nowhere near being an ecologist, so this isn't an attack, it's a question.
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21 RocketDude15th Dec 2011 03:16:20 PM from AZ, United States
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In some cases, the extinction of a species could potentially screw around with the ecosystem and food chain.

I mean, yeah, natural selection, but I think it only counts if they all die and the extinction not affect things too badly.

Then again, I don't think we can predict that well what happens if they do go extinct, so...

edited 15th Dec '11 3:18:06 PM by RocketDude

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22 USAF71315th Dec 2011 03:48:37 PM from the United States
I changed accounts.
@The Earth Sheep,

It isn't so "natural," in terms of natural selection, if it's being caused by shit we introduced artificially, is it?
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Adveho in mihi Lucifer
Not to mention that we can benefit a lot from certain species, so we should make sure they survive, even if for selfish interest.

I mean, you might not like crocodiles the least, but if they turned out to have a resistance to a future pathogen it'd be better to keep them alive for studies.
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24 RocketDude15th Dec 2011 03:55:26 PM from AZ, United States
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That too. I mean, hard to call it natural selection when Mother Nature didn't quite intend for Species X to be in a different place.
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It isn't so much about killing off species, but of undoing the damage that we have caused. No one has qualms about trying to kill off the burmese pythons that are taking over the florida everglades, because we are the reason that they are there in the first place. When it comes to Australia, humans are the ones that brought over dogs (dingoes are basically feral pets), and the dingoes drove the marsupial carnivores to extinction (because marsupials are simply unable to compete with placental mammals, due to differences in reproductive rates). This would merely be a method of correcting our own mistakes, not forcing nature to do what we find aesthetically pleasing. We are also to blame for the deserts on Australia, because humans would set forests on fire to drive game into traps, and in doing so they destroyed the positive feedback of transpiration and caused the deserts to spread.

I'll admit though, my bias towards the marsupials comes from the fact that this is an ecosystem that was in development back when dinosaurs walked the Earth - Australia is the oldest surviving continent on the planet (outside of antarctica), so its almost like getting a glimpse of Earth as it was millions of years ago. It saddens me to know that we have basically doomed the last surviving marsupials and monotremes to extinction by introducing placental competitors.

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