GSE Gravitational Systems Engineering, Inc.  
Dense Environmental Energy


Chapter 1: Drought and desertification:


by G.A.Henderson

Director of Applied Research & Development

Gravitational Systems Engineering, Inc.




It ain't the heat, it's the humility.
Yogi Berra


Water as energy:

Water & energy are both ubiquitous products of the big bang.  Water is a form of mass, and according to mass-energy equivalence (E=MC2)31 32, mass is a form of energy. Therefore water must in some sense adhere to the first law of thermodynamics.   Yet unlike other forms of mass, water is of a fundamental class of mass, which makes it both comparable and substitutable for energy.

Water is the most essential element of all life on earth, and its availability is the key to healthy ecosystems.  All of life's processes require water; food making, food transport, food storage, food use, and defense.  Water is a reagent in chemical reactions, a bath for other reactions, a coating, buffer, and binder.  Water is a liquid workshop, a chemical scaffold, and a biological facilitator.  Hydrological imbalances are the primary challenges to the economics of life, biodiversity and ultimately to the earth's ecosystem.

Through-out this book I will speak of water and energy almost interchangeably.   Because as you will see if you have energy you also could have water.


Drought and Energy:

Drought represents an imbalance in regional hydrology, more generally attributed to the form of water (i.e. liquid, solid, gas [humidity]), rather than its existence.  Regional hydrology is a direct function of energy availability, more generally attributed to the form of energy (i.e. potential, kinetic, thermal, etc.), rather that its existence.

Water and water H218O:

In 2006 Toowoomba, an Australian community of 100,000, stricken by drought rejected a water from sewage plan, choosing instead a much more expensive pipeline solution.  Many such communities faced with drought have opted for vast regional water projects as opposed to dramatically cheaper waste water reclamation programs.

We are so consumed with our ideas of what clean water is that we don't realize that the purity of water is a wide continuum, ranging from the ultra-pure water that IBM makes to clean electronics (it's so pure it would make you sick if you drank it) to anthropologically dangerous fetid waste waters in public sewage trough of  a large refugee camp.

If this continuum of water purity was on a 1 to 100 scale (from IBM to the sewer) then drinking water would be at about 60, yet the useful water that flows through our hydrological cycle, which is from precipitation to evaporation, ranges from 30 to 80 on that same scale. The water that my dogs will drink takes on even a wider range...ugh. My point is that when we consider the regional hydrological cycle, which moves water between the clouds and the earth is like all natural systems, a rich and complex phenomena as compared to even the most complex of human created systems.

Water, according to current cosmological theory, came with the planets formation. We have roughly the same amount of water now as we did when the planet was formed. Water is a form of energy in that it is comprised of energetic bonds between atoms which are also comprised of energy. Water is one of the most useful forms of energy. Water in synchrony with sunlight and gravity, and just the right amount of dry land, have allowed life to form and prosper on the planet, this is known as the just right or "Goldilocks zone".

As a result of the pivotal nature of water in our ecosystem, water is an energy source when compared with sunlight and gravity,

"Water is a complex engine with sunlight as metal and gravity as heat."

Water is the Swiss army knife of energy. Because water or energy are change functions. Water is life, and to our current knowledge is life is water.

Over the eons our environment has evolved a complex circulation of water from ground to sky which is known as the hydrological cycle, as depicted in the excellent illustration above. As a result the same molecule of water that was urinated by your neighbors dog yesterday is quite likely to be in the glass of tap water that you will drink today. Any individual molecule of water can and does exist in many states ranging from gas, as humidity, to liquid to solid as ice.

Water also has many ionic forms, which relate to the various atomic structures of oxygen and hydrogen atoms electron shells. Nature has sprung up around the existence of water, and is highly dependent upon both the availability and characteristics of water. A large tree will move hundreds of gallons of water through its structure during the course of a single day. Many forms of life, including humans, need water to both breath and to breed successfully. And without water all but the most robust forms of life can not last for more than a couple of days. To a great extent what we know of as life is the flow of water through a system.

Energy from the earth and the sunlight combine to break up large groups of water molecules held together by structures (cells or physical barriers) or electrostatics and gravity, into single isolated molecules that are elevated through thermal imbalances between the molecule (activity) and the relationship between gravity and atmospheric molecules, this is evaporation. These water molecules, mostly free of any earthly baggage (pollutants) rise through the atmosphere until the depleted gravitational forces of elevation reduces thermal imbalances, and water molecules once again coalesce with others and condense often in large loose agglomerations known as clouds. When these groups of water molecules find an anchor (some non-water molecule known as a condensation nuclei) they grow numerous enough to once again overcome the effects of gravity on atmospheric molecules, and are re-captured by the embrace of planetary gravity and begin to descend. This descent is often iterative (repeating cyclically) as the conflict between the larger groups of water molecules combat other atmospheric phenomena (wind, heat, atmospheric pressure, etc.) which conspires to keep it aloft or to break it once again into individual molecules.

Those groups which successfully overcome these atmospheric forces will come crashing into the earths surface as precipitation. Once the water has reached the earth it is greedily absorbed by both the living and the in-animate for each selfish purpose. This water does its earthly duty, and is once again entered into the endless water cycle known as the water cycle known as regional hydrology.

One of the worst droughts of the Twentieth Century occurred in the Horn of Africa in 1984 and 1985. This image shows Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) anomaly for August 1984.

Droughts are increasing in frequency, severity and duration worldwide.   There are only anthropogenic and contextual definitions of drought that are widely accepted by the scientific community.  These definitions presume a kind of natural law, wherein some areas, generally attributed to climatological pressures, are naturally arid while other areas are naturally moist. 

However in this book I will presume no such natural states, simply because they pre-date human measurement or conformance with current meteorological models.  My approach is based upon both the hydrological and meteorological drought definitions.  

While natural or historical deserts are formed primarily due to their locations,[ i.e. rain shadow (leeward side of a mountain range) or a natural high pressure zone], there are localization strategies which can over time ameliorate even natural barriers.

I believe, and will attempt to convince the reader that hydro-meteorological balance, and active water cycles, can be achieved in all temperate regions, excluding the poles, {although with the recent rates of global warming melt of the ice caps, perhaps the poles will one day be dark/bright tropics}.

I will examine current anti-drought methods and measures, and introduce innovative long-term mechanical methods and legislative hydrological balancing approaches.  The application of these measures and methods can ameliorate drought, and reverse the trends of increasing drought over a few decades.

I also believe, and this will be a common thread through out this book, that much of the increasing trends of drought are indeed anthropogenic.  Many of the factors that I will discuss can also contribute to increasing global temperatures, and dangerous weather patterns.  The discussions in this book will focus on meteorological adaptation with the ultimate goals of  engendering governmental and industrial concerns to adopt terra-stabilization methods and policies.  Much of the scholarship in this text is inductive and while it has been rigorously verified via digital simulations and through thought experiments, there is much physical research that can and should be done under controlled lab experiments.

Drought is a multi-faceted, creeping problem with some of the most serious and widespread affects, social, economic, environmental and political, of any other phenomena, including wars, earthquakes and storms. The effects of drought are multi-dimensional, short term, long term, obvious and stealthy. When you drive through the dry drought stricken cornfields of the US Midwest the short withered stalks of badly formed ears are obvious to all but the most self involved. Yet unseen are the long term effects on the soil productivity, which will put constant pressure on food prices for many decades to come.

The short term economic affect of drought in reduced availability and higher prices, are often out weighed by the long term impacts of the failure of small scale producers, forced changes in consumer preferences, and inter-regional competitors gaining a foothold in established markets.

However, the most insidious affects of droughts are social. In the short term small and marginal producers struggle to find both food and water for their families and livestock. In the long term many children will be denied a chance to learn to read or further their educations, when girls in particular are pressed into the service of bringing water from distance sources, often making education an impossible luxury.

The future prospects of entire regions, and generations are challenged by drought and desertification. While adaptation is a necessary short or medium term strategy, mitigation is the only long term strategy that makes sense.
Drought is a problem today, but if current practices are not mitigated it will increase.
Drought has been, and is expected to intensify across the globe this century.

Here are a few facts about drought.

1.Drought is an increasing phenomena in all regions of earth within [45] degrees from the equator.

2.  All areas within [75] degrees of the equator can support at least nominal levels of life if the hydrological balance is supportive.

3. As animal and human life concentrations continue to increase, many sharp decreases in the availability of potable water will occur as non-renewable resources are exhausted. This is the definition of agricultural drought

4. Increasing hydrological balances, such as droughts and desertification's, will lead to increasing weather and geological  turbulence. (i.e. Hurricanes, tornados and earthquakes, etc.)

5. Drought is  the leading factor in high food prices, in both dry and wet years.

In many arid regions vast quantities of water are locked up as humidity, ice, or groundwater.   Some areas appear to be natural deserts, while many areas  hit by periodic drought are trending toward permanent desertification.

Many historic forces have contributed to hydrological imbalances. Land usage, deforestation, destructive agricultural practices, along with apparently natural forces such as plate-tectonics, and volcanic activity all contribute to regional hydrological evolutions.     Short-term profitability, political expediency, regional hegemony, and questionable science have also, and continue to impact regional hydrological imbalance. The period of extended drought that lead to the dust bowl is largely attributed to farming practices. Natural  hydrological balance evolves from the long term interactions of the atmosphere, oceans, earth, sunlight and gravity.

In my view there are just a few primary factors that contribute to drought and desertification. Groundwater, groundwater recharge and atmospheric heat are the primary factors. Other factors such as vegetation type & density, relative humidity, latitude, soil composition/temperature, and Insolation are secondary. If the primary factors are all maintained within a nominal range drought and desertification will not occur to any anthropogenic concern.

The secondary factors contribute to basic hydrological maintenance, yet if the primary factors are extra-nominal drought will occur and desertification will take hold over time. Consequently, my definition of drought is an area with insufficient groundwater recharge relative to average atmospheric heat. Desertification is in my view when there is a persistent net hydrology loss sufficient to suppress desirable water phase cycles over time.




Desertification is an evolutionary process wherein the average hydrology of  an area tends toward increasing aridity.  The aridity of a region is a measure of the water cycle and the sufficiency of regional hydrology to support life.  

Desertification reduces soil fertility, particularly base cation content, organic matter content, pore space, and water-retention capacity. Desertification also reduces vegetative productivity, leading to long-term declines in agricultural yields, livestock yields, plant standing biomass, and plant biodiversity.

IPCC : Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification defines desertification as "the process of fertile land transforming into desert typically as a result of deforestation, drought or improper/inappropriate agriculture"[Google Dictionary (2012)]. 
Lake Chad in a 2001 satellite image, with the actual lake in blue. The lake has shrunk by 95% since the 1960s 

The causes of creeping desertification, and therefore persistent drought, are complicated by currently irreducible uncertainties. Yet trends towards greater aridity are easily demonstrated by our relatively short direct measurement data, and through the usage of various historical techniques such as tree rings and sedimentary studies.

A historical review strongly correlates increasing aridity and population concentrations (human and animal), mono-culture farming, and traditionally sub-optimal and often centuries of wrongheaded soil management and agricultural practices.

Lake Chad,  Salton sea and the Aral sea are examples of man's mismanagement of the natural environment, resulting in major hydrological shifts.

The growth and concentration of life and its infrastructure can over-burden nature. Artificial concentrations of life have been loosely been limited by market forces, and widely discredited MSY (maximum sustainable yield) calculations. It is a given that nature has a limited capacity to absorb any phenomena. 

For example on my Virginia farm, the natural eco systems are in balance.  The plants and animals depend upon each other for both life and death.  Water treatment, sewage treatment, food production, and even funeral services are all provided free by nature.  Yet if I began to concentrate, say a herd of goats in this small area, all of those services would become necessary, and necessarily imported from other areas.   The imbalances created would require services to compensate for needs beyond the short and long term carrying capacity of the area. In modern states these imbalances are widespread and increasingly extremely concentrated.

Concentrations of life like cities, industries and extraction operations are heat engines, converting heat into atmospheric pressure gradients.

Mega-cities, fast growing all over the globe, are like idling cars sitting in a large garage, marshalling and then converting vast quantities of fuel into heat and vibration with concomitant deadly exhaust fumes.   Despite human love of cities there is growing evidence that one of the unintended consequences of human concentration is growing hydrological imbalances resulting in both desertification and unpredictable weather. 

The effects on local meteorology of cities has long be understood.  The extra heat of cities often changes local wind patterns, increases cloud formation, and rates of precipitation.  Rainfall rates downwind of cities are increased as high as 115%, while some cities show total precipitation increases as high as 50%.

To nature, a city is like an abandoned coal mine that catches fire and burns for years.  Generating heat and pollution well above the carrying capacity of the region.  A city is a place where fossil fuels, collected from deep recesses around the globe, and electricity generated by distant primordial fires, is concentrated and set alight.  Large cities are like burning cigarettes pressed into the soft flesh of the earth.

Many drought inducing conditions, outside of cities, will be ameliorated over time, while some will most likely increase. Specifically, as we understand more about soil management, and reduce reliance on animal proteins many of the long term pressures on semi-arid areas may decrease over a few generations.

When you can't make them see the light, make them feel the heat.
Ronald Reagan

The problems of human settlement concentrations, seems less likely to abate. The rise of technologies such as communications and life support devices will eventually lead to a greater decentralization of human settlements, yet the social nature of our species will most likely be unabated for many generations. Another key mitigating factor will be the reduction of dependence on the "labor for survival" model which dominated the evolution of human society. Primarily this mitigation will occur due to increasing automation, and the concomitant reductions of energy consumption due to decreased commuting and HVAC of secondary structures such as office buildings.

However, by the time many of these mitigating factors take significant root in human society, many of the temperate or fertile areas will have been converted in to semiarid and arid regions.  While there is a lot of deep discussion about global warming, perhaps this book will help to add some focus on the problems of global drying and growing hydrological imbalances as well.

Many cities around the world are making often Herculean efforts to improve regional hydrology, and reduce energy consumption due to drought.  Chicago and New York have both begun to implement energy/hydrology programs along with many other cities around the globe.  Yet many of these efforts only target one of the multiple environmental factors which lead to drought, and therefore lead to short term solutions which may in fact exacerbate the long term problems.  Problems such as atmospheric heat and regional humidity migration remain un-addressed.

The overburdening of areas through the concentration of combustion, fuel and life forms (human or livestock), can also have dramatic effects on regional hydrology and weather. The heat island effect, (heat engine),where heat builds up in cities, ostensibly due to absorbed sunlight, has long been viewed as a growing problem of cities.  Large thermal imbalances in the lower atmosphere have a significant effects on regional wind and cloud formation.  The thermal signatures of cities change the wind and therefore humidity flows of adjacent regions in ways that nature has not had sufficient time to evolve to accommodate.   These changes have been documented as increased rainfall around cities and significant changes in both covering and productive cloud formations.

The primary thesis/hypothesis of this book is that adaptation to drought is possible and can ameliorate the fundamental causes of regional hydrological imbalance.  Most efforts to adapt to rising temperatures and growing drought focus on surface factors such as water supplies, water use, and heat reflection.  Yet in this book I will explore various subterranean and lower atmosphere methods that can have a long term effect on achieving hydrological balance and drought mitigation.  I will offer an answer to a scientific question which is rarely asked, outside of science fiction, "can water as gas (humidity) be effectively managed anthropologically?".   Can we begin to view evapo-transpiration as a manageable resource, locally, regionally, or synoptically.  

A thread of this book is perhaps an alternative, or at least addition to, the green house gas theory of climate change;

"Climate change is in part a result of increasing hydrological imbalances, which create both excess green house gas and excess absorption of solar radiation."

Hydrological imbalances foster excess green house gas by the suppression of biodiversity and over-burdening naturally evolved climate processes.  Hydrological imbalances foster excess absorption of solar radiation by reducing productive cloud formation.


Heat not a furnace for your foe so hot that it do singe yourself.
William Shakespeare


Natural Causes of Drought and Desertification:

Drought and desertification are life oriented descriptive terms. I say that they are life oriented because this is how they are defined, based upon a historic view of the regions hydrological cycles ability to sustain a specific eco- system. Consequently when we discuss a natural drought we are forcing a complex set of physical phenomena interactions through the prism of life sustainability. In short there would be no droughts as we know them on a planet with similar hydrological cycles if it did not sustain life.

Many areas that have been historically seen as deserts are not seen as suffering from droughts because it is assumed that aridity is their natural state. However, when the remove the blinders of history and life support we can see that the interaction of various energy forces can potentially be moved or move by circumstances into a less arid arc over time.

The causes of drought that would exist if there was no human enterprise on the planet are quite substantial. However, before I go forward, I should mention that any large concentrations of life, especially animal or insect life, can potentially impact on regional hydrology, so life is the cause not necessarily human life.

I would first like to define drought in non-anthropogenic terms, or more broadly in non-life terms. Drought is an area where the average hydrological cycle is significantly less energetic than a regional or planetary norm. As is evidenced by a few planets in our solar system, hydrological cycles are primarily thermal in nature. On our plant life, complex self replicating organisms, has evolved with, and acted upon, the hydrological norms.

There are many factors that can change the hydrology of a region both independently and as a result of non-anthropogenic forces. For a drought, which I define as a significant reduction of the energy transfers between the atmosphere the surface, to take hold in a region the hydrological cycle must be interrupted or degraded over time.

A large comet impact, with a tremendous heat transfer and deformation of the area, is potentially a source of drought. Volcanoes, oceanic heat gradients, even earthquakes can potentially shift hydrology in a region. Any natural occurrence, although it is becoming increasingly difficult to say with any certainty that even earthquakes and volcanoes are not at least in part anthropogenic, which prevents productive cloud formation can lead to drought conditions.

Productive cloud formation depends on a number of inter-related factors. High atmospheric heat can force cloud formation so high in the atmosphere that clouds can not produced sufficient raindrop sizes to reach the surface. This is a common phenomena is areas such as the middle east. However, atmospheric heat is both a cause and effect of drought conditions. A large introduced heat source, such as an asteroid, volcano, or nuclear bomb can flash away a sufficient quantity of local moisture to retard productive cloud formation, while at the same time sealing the groundwater under melted rock. Yet any condition that retards the growth of albedo lowering vegetation will add to atmospheric heat levels, as more shortwave radiation is reflected back into the atmosphere.

Large concentration of deeply rooted plants which drain, or react to subsurface events which impact, groundwater resources can also precipitate drought conditions.

However the most common drought causing occurrence is a stalled high pressure system over the region. High pressure systems retard productive cloud cover and atmospheric heat will increase the carrying capacity of the air, which is often blown to other regions by surface winds. The result is that adjacent areas may experience flooding while drought takes hold in the high pressure region.

High pressure stalls are commonly caused by un-cooperative jet streams or cold water ocean currents like La Nina which setup unproductive wind cells between thermal sinks, or in enclosed areas such as mountain valleys.

Synoptic wind patterns are another significant factor in drought formation. A rich thermal and kinetic environment such as a continent evolves based upon typical seasonal wind patterns. The wind is the atmospheres attempt to equalize temperatures and moisture levels across regions. These wind patterns have both shaped life on land, and been shaped by life as well as thermally significant structures such as lakes, oceans and mountains. Although at our current level of understanding, these wind flows seem almost as random as the role of die, these patterns are based upon predictable, yet extremely complex, interactions in a multi-layered atmosphere.

Yet if physical phenomena collectively cause significant changes in moisture carrying wind patterns, some areas will fall into drought while others may be inundated by floods.  Extensive wildfires are an example of this phenomena.  If wildfires, or volcanoes add significant quantities of particles, soot or smoke, into the atmosphere they can cause a positive radiative forcing which traps heat in an area.  If this condition persists, or occurs at a critical juncture for the region, it can induce drought conditions which may drain regional water sources and effectively cut evapo/transpiration.



References and Recognitions: (note: most illustration link back to their original sources)

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