Earth Day: Terraforming The Earth

In 300 years, New York, London, Tokyo, and just about every major city on the planet will be underwater. Sub-Saharan Africa will extend to the equator. Arizona will get hurricanes. These are huge problems, but luckily there are a few very creative people working to terraform the Earth for this year’s Hackaday Prize.

[Danny] is working to stop desertification, and stop blowing drifts of sand from encroaching on valuable farm land. How does his project aim to do this? There are a few techniques that can mitigate or even stop the expanding deserts, including reforestation, proper water management, and using woodlots and windbreaks just like in the 1930s dust bowl.

With the right tools, these techniques are fairly simple to implement. For that, [Danny] is working on a biodegradable lattice framework that will hold soil in place just like plant roots would. It’s an interesting concept, and we can’t wait to see what kind of prototypes [Danny comes up with.

The Terra Spider takes a different tack. In true post-apocalyptic fashion, the Terra Spider will deploy thousands of robots capable of moving and removing biomatter from the environment. Each of the Terra Spiders is able to monitor the local environment, and a few dozen of these bots connected by a wireless network will be able to address a specific site’s needs to make a landscape the way it should be.


62 thoughts on “Earth Day: Terraforming The Earth

  1. In 300 years, New York, London, Tokyo, and just about every major city on the planet will be underwater. Sub-Saharan Africa will extend to the equator. Arizona will get hurricanes.”

    {{citation needed}}

      1. Logic. It’s a tricky thing for some people.

        Saying I’d like a reference for this statement does not imply that I don’t think that the climate is changing.

        Your response indicated you have no evidence that these statements are true either.

      2. 100’s of years ago you’d get burnt at the stake for saying the world was round and revolved around the sun.
        People only think climate change is our fault because of some questionable research, and because public opinion says so. The planet has just come out of an ice age. This cycle will repeat itself long after we’ve all died out as a race, never mind a generation.

        1. I expect it unlikely that this comment will change your mind but in the interest of providing the other side of your ‘climate change is natural’ point of view for the benefit of others:

          Natural climate change in the past proves that climate is sensitive to an energy imbalance. If the planet accumulates heat, global temperatures will go up. Currently, CO2 is imposing an energy imbalance due to the enhanced greenhouse effect. Past climate change actually provides evidence for our climate’s sensitivity to CO2

          Therefore, climate reacts to whatever forces it to change at the time; humans emit vast amounts of CO2, humans are now the dominant forcing. Its not difficult to come to these conclusions, the only questions that remain are how quickly are humans altering their climate and what will the consequences be?

      3. 97% of scientists paid to work on global warming/climate change/extreme weather agree that everyone should agree that they deserve tenure. The other 90% of scientists in fields that count (who already have tenure or don’t work for universities or government), are not convinced either way.

        1. As an academic scientist, I’m alarmed that you’ve found out our secret. It takes about 10 years of living in extreme poverty for the average student to get their PhD, and being a scientist or professor at a university means that I earn one third to one quarter what I would make in industry, have to move across the globe every few years (distant from family and friends) without knowing whether my job will exist year to year (especially given recent trends in scientific funding), and have to save my pennies so I can go visit them once a year. I have a PhD, am employed at a large university, am one of the highest paid postdoctoral researchers in the entire university, and my current wage is the same as the *starting* wage of nearly every friend I have from undergraduate who is working at a company entering in database queries or making phone widgets (and they have only bachelors degrees), where as I am lucky enough to teach genuinely interested students and advance the state of the art in my area each year. Many graduate students and adjunct professors are on food stamps. An adjunct professor I dated several years ago (who also had a law degree, and could have made more money at any time were she not passionate about teaching) made a little over 20k per year teaching 2 classes per term, didn’t know if she’d have a job every 4 months until the last minute, and has a fucked up wrist because it broke once and she was too poor to afford to go to the hospital (in the US). We teach and research, often at great personal expense along the journey, because we are passionate about education, and passionate about making the world a better place and learning more about it. Suggesting that we’d compromise our scientific integrity and lie en mass just to make a living wage and know we’ll have a job from one year to the next is abhorrent (on the rare occasion academic dishonesty is found, people are fired immediately, and essentially unemployable after). But if you can not effectively evaluate the veracity of your sources and want to believe that oil companies and politicians making huge money off environmental destruction are vastly more trustworthy than academics, that is unfortunately your option.

          1. You make my case. Yes, all the really smart and right people are poor and in universities, apparently really bad at getting promotions compared to my day. You left out the poor food stamp NASA employees on the Fed pay grades too. All the evil stupid greedy scientists who don’t agree with you work for oil companies and want to release so much carbon that the date of a particular temperature rise will be early by 10 hours per 100 years and just be noise in the signal from the coal plants of China and India and whatever they burn in those Russian 2-cycle cars.

            Here’s an idea. You can do a 9 month Nuclear Medicine program offered by a community college and start out as a “traveler” at $90K a year + per diem and spend summers in Edmonton or the northern city of your choice and winters in Arizona or any snowbird destination. Or stay put and start at a little less. You will have regular hours, no trauma cases and can do whatever your science is as a hobby and you won’t have to whine about it. Your law friend genius didn’t know that in the US you will get treated at an ER for a broken bone, or was too poor to get transportation? The fire department medic-1 will take you if you ask. Really? Complaining about not making enough from a part time job when you have training to take on other work? Gah! I hate what has happened to higher education. It is like looking at Greek ruins and wondering what they were like when new. The Maker movement is all that keeps hope alive.

          2. I worked for an NSF funded organization in 1998 (Al Gore was V.P.) my Department head told us during a meeting that if we had a proposal we wanted funded, we had better tie it in with global warming.

            I was there, I heard it myself, the Department head may deny it now, as well as everybody in the chain of command, but that doesn’t change what we were told.

    1. Sub-Sarharan Africa already extends to the equator, lol. It actually goes all the way to the Cape.

      The rest I presume stems from the IPCC climate predictions and the assumed sea-level rise.
      Tokyo – 39 ft
      New York – 85 ft
      Tribeca – 20-40 ft
      London – 100 ft
      So in reality, PARTS of these cities will be inundated. Now New Orleans and the Netherlands….

        1. Even if that is the intended meaning, that seems like the worst way to word that, given the directionality of the term. We’re measuring things from the desert, so it would extend -from- the equator or to the cape. That’s a pendantic I admit, but those words don’t make sense the other way.

          1. What is the deal with the ridiculous hyperbole lately? I guess I expect HAD to be more realistic and honest and less like a trashy news grabbing site.

    2. They can’t even predict the weather for next week. How can they predict what will happen in 300 years? But of course I won’t be around to say “I told you so.”

      Remember Y2K, nuclear winter, food riots by 1980 and the New Madrid fault?

      These enviro-marxists crack me up.

  2. Of course, if you’d gone to your geology class instead of sleeping in, you’d realize that sea level has been going up and down for as long as the earth has had oceans. It’s been rising more or less continuously since the last ice age. It’s very near average highstand. It might go up a few meters more and it might not. But it’s risen about 200 meters since the last lowstand.

    Climate certainly changes. Here’s a good example:

    As for “terraforming”. Yeah, right. We’ve got lots of energy and raw materials that are not being used. Let’s go for it. What could go wrong?

    1. You’re ignoring the changes to civilization over the past 12,000 years. No one is seriously arguing that sea level rise is somehow a new phenomena. The concern is how it impacts human investments. You’re also ignoring the nuances of iso- and eu-static changes. There’s also the complication that we may be able to slow or even reverse the eustatic increases. At worst, we buy time to create solutions.

      A few meters doesn’t matter to people in the mountains, but it makes a huge difference to countries who’s highest elevation is a few meters above sea level, and the millions of people living on the coast in other countries.

    2. Exactly, why do so many kids these days suffer from the “Stasis Delusion”?

      Even cities change and over 300 years we can expect most cities to change completely, including having their boundaries shift as required. Sea level change will not be fast enough to be incompatible with the natural dynamics of cities, with perhaps the exception of a few such as Abu Ahabi where they will have problems before the use-by-date of all their new buildings. So not only is change important but the localised relationships between the rates of change of different phenomena is important, in fact it is closer to reality.

      I doubt Human v. 1.0 will exist in 300 years from now anyway and all these “problems” are not going to be problems at all because whatever we change into will be a master of matter and energy on a global scale.

      1. While I don’t want to give any fuel to climate deniers, you raise a really good point. If human civilization can’t cope with a mere 1m of sea level rise (etc), how are we going to cope with far greater natural changes, and natural disasters – tsunamic, volcanos, meteor strikes etc? Even since the last glacial maximum, only a few thousand years ago, sea level has changed by 100m or so.

        The few hundred years of well recorded history, are hardly a pinprick in geological time, but we have built a civilization that hangs on a <0.1% margin of natural variability.

        In 300 years, Yellowstone or some other supervolcano could go off, then we will find what "natural variation" really means, and how precarious our civilization is.

        Unfortunately, Human 2.0 and reaching Kardashev levels is pure science fiction. That is a fantasy get out. We'll be stuck with the real world for millennia.

    3. Reg, the fact that the oceans have gone up and down, and that the climate has changed over historical time spans is not some surprising fact that climatologists have somehow never learned about. In fact, it is exactly these same people who have researched the facts you are stating.

      Your logic is like telling the police to stop looking for a serial killer because people have always died, so serial killers are nothing to worry about.

      1. I suggest you take a course in time series analysis. In particular, pay attention to short window FFT artifacts. While the wavelet transform is often claimed to circumvent that, it only does so by assuming certain properties for which there is no data.

        “Man lives upon the earth by geological consent which is subject to revocation without notice.” Will & Ariel Durant

        From a poster in my geology thesis supervisor’s office.

        Paleoclimatology was a respectable discipline until the snake oil crowd showed up and started massaging data to fit their assumptions.

    4. +1. I absolutely agree. People blame “global warming” on human behavior, but the fact is- in between each ice age is a period where the average temperature rises, large amounts of ice melt from the poles, and most of the earth is flooded.
      Humans may be speeding up the process, but there is nothing we can do to stop it.

      1. There is a lot we can do to keep from making it worse.
        As far as sea levels changing, remember what happened to Alexandria?

        Another factor that I’ve never seen accounted for is what happens when the weight of the water is on some of those land masses.

        1. The land sinks. I can’t speak to its use in the models quoted in newspapers. When speaking about global impacts it is probably ignored, but it is definitely accounted for on regional models. It’s just very complex and depends wholly on local geology.
          Loss of real estate is compounded by the fact that after sea level rise rivers drop all their sediment adding more weight to the flooded land, causing more sinking and ‘sea level rise’.

      2. You are actually right. In a few hundred years, we will run out of usable fossil carbon to burn, and after a few million years nature will return the Earth back to it’s “normal” state.

        Future archaeologists will note a layer of concrete rubble in the sedimentary record, and speculate about the cause of the sudden spike in CO2, and the existence of a previous “great civilization”.

    5. Even if all of it is natural and none of it caused by humans, then surely you can still agree that that kind of sea-level and climate change will be a huge problem for humanity? Otherwise it is a bit like discounting the entire field of medicine because people have been getting sick and dying for millions of years.

      1. Predictions made by computer programs with a huge number of assumptions and very little data are being treated as “fact”. They are not facts. They are predictions about the future. There is a significant distinction between facts and predictions.

        For many years some people worried about an ice age disrupting human civilization. Now other people are worried about the opposite. There is a segment of the population that has an obsessive need to worry about something they cannot control. They derive personal pleasure from the attention it gets them. Similar to the woman recently convicted of poisoning her son with table salt so she could get sympathy on her Facebook page.

        1. So should we study the climate and try to plan for the future or not? Is it worth it to try to get our predictions more accurate establish facts?

          I don’t really understand your argument. It seems a bit anti-science to me.

  3. “In 300 years, New York, London, Tokyo, and just about every major city on the planet will be underwater. Sub-Saharan Africa will extend to the equator. Arizona will get hurricanes. Human Sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria.” Sorry but I’m dubious.

    1. It will have been a bigger conspiracy than the JFK assassination and 9/11 inside job combine. A journalism major and accomplished businessman does not have the experience, nor most importantly _counter evidence_ to disprove the vast body of evidence for climate change. A whole bunch of unreviewed blog posts by friends, doesn’t count.

      It doesn’t matter WHO thinks it, it matters WHY they think it.

    2. I remember John Coleman from WLS TV in Chicago back in the 70s. He was well liked for his “zany” presentation of the weather, and being the first one in town with the green screen effect. But Coleman isn’t a climatologist. No doubt you can find people with much better credentials than John Coleman who doubt AGW, but they are still in the tiny minority.

      1. The bolsheviks were not the majority. They just claimed they were. Al Gore wants to make it a criminal offense to disagree with him.

        Any geologist is well qualified. We just generally don’t want to get shouted at by people who don’t know what they are talking about.

        Conserving fossil fuels and natural resources is good and should be encouraged. Consuming them to solve hypothetical problems is not a good idea.

        1. Credentials do not matter. An argument should stand on the mertis of its premises. The premises of global warming denial are Big Oil and Bad Science(TM). They’ve taken the manual from Big Tobacco and shouted their campaign of FUD to every outlet that would give them the time of day.

  4. “These problems cannot be solved at the level of thinking that created them” – Albert Einstein. Talking about nuclear energy, but really applies to all human “progress”, that is engineering solutions to problems caused by “progress”….

  5. Don’t worry, in 300-1000My, everything on earth is done anyways, due to the solar evolution. So better live more ecologically (no more wars and no more growth of economy and population) and invest resources to travel to Moon and Mars and make a colonies there. Low gravity and no real atmosphere there makes it easy to launch huge payloads into space. Then in a some 10ky, some star might pass relatively close to solar system and a big space ship might hop over and we might have a second earth.


    Dr. Allan Savory is on the outs with the environmentalists because he effed up big time and admits it. A proposal by him is why African elephants are endangered. He wrongly assumed that elephants’ habitat was turning to desert because they were overgrazing due to being pressured into a smaller area by surrounding farms.

    Solution? Kill a lot of the elephants. To his surprise the elephant habitat began to deteriorate faster. After actually studying how connected the animals are to their environment, he found that the seeds consumed by elephants and other grazing animals benefited from being spread around and deposited with their excrement – nice plops of fertilizer.

    Environmentalists (especially the radical vegan ones suffering from B vitamin deficiency) love to claim that large herds of hooved ungulates “compact the soil”, making it impossible for plants to take root and the land turns to desert.

    Um, the American Great Plains, where once several million Buffalo roamed in herds so large they covered the land as far as one could see, prove that “theory” to be pure bovine stool.

    Grazing animals consume the plants, poo out the seeds and their hooves break up hard soil, tilling in the excrement and seeds.

    It’s likely that the people who lived in the Southwest a few thousand years ago died out or moved away due to a combination of plain old ordinary climate change and hunting out the local herds of grazing animals. Without the large herds keeping the soil broken and distributing the seeds and fertilizer, the land dried up. The Buffalo and other herds didn’t return to the southwest because it had become inhospitable desert. Why leave the fertile plains for dry ground?

    Moving to a different continent, a not widely publicized discovery in the Amazonian jungle showed that large areas of it are not natural. The rich soil was found to have a layer of charcoal, which is made by slowly partially burning wood in a restricted oxygen environment. (Pyrolysis) Way back then that would have been clay or brick charcoal ovens. Since that discovery there has been a slowly growing industry making “biochar”, a fancy name for pyrolyzed wood ground up for use as a soil conditioner. To help sell it the manufacturers usually use terms like “carbon sequestration”. Nevermind that’s a load of bull, but the fertilizing effect works.

    I’m sure you’ve heard of “ocean acidification”? First thing, the Ph of seawater near and at the surface averages around 8.4. That’s *basic* or alkaline, not acidic. Not an acid until the Ph drops below 7. Seawater Ph would have to change a lot before it could be “acidifying”. Another thing on that, carbon dioxide, methane and other gasses from decomposing organic matter constantly bubbles up from all over the bottoms of the oceans and seas, including all through the coral reefs “in danger” from CO2 that somehow is supposed to saturate way down deep from the little bit of stirring at the surface. If you’ve seen pictures of deformed shellfish grown during experiments, take note that extreme concentrations of CO2 were used, as high as seltzer water or more. Same kind of BS “science” as shooting up lab rats with concentrations of chemicals that for a human would be consuming several liters of the test substance.

    Look up LD50. That’s short for Lethal Dose 50%, or how much of something it takes to kill half of the test subjects. LD25 and LD100 are also test benchmarks.

    1. Ignoring your lack of a cohesive point.
      Ocean acidification is describing the decrease in pH (Ph is not the same, the H is for hydrogen) NOT the overall state of the ocean. Furthermore ocean currents have such drastically different chemistries that they can be distinguished from each other. We can tell if it came from deep ocean, shallow ocean, near shore, off-shore, which ocean it came from, which current within that ocean, &c. The concern with ocean acidification (remember that’s describing the tendency to decrease pH) is that more than just pH goes into determining whether corals, shellfish, and cephalopods dissolve or not, pressure, temperature, salinity, and a few others all go into calculating the solubility constant for calcite.
      Then there’s heat stress on corals, nutrient flux, turbidity, rise in sea level, change in current flows. Coral ecology is a complex topic.

      As interesting as TED is, go read some peer reviewed research instead, you’ll learn more.

      1. I don’t think anyone here disagreed with the fact that multiple variables affect coral growth. I’ve never managed to sit through a TED talk as it tends to either verge on pseudoscience or be dumbed for their audience to the point of being useless. I specifically used Ph and not pH because that’s what you consistently used.

        Can we at least agree that it is worth studying changes in the ocean and the climate in general?

  7. NO you do NOT mess with this planet with some misguided ‘terraforming’. LAY OFF.

    I’m just glad several countries like china and russia (and iran soon?) have nukes and the ability to put a break on the insane people thinking they can mess with the entire planet because they feel so superior and entitled.

    For those that wonder: I mention iran because they had a beef going where they expected the US to be involved with cloud-forming/seeding and by doing so depriving their areas from rain if I recall correctly. So they are know to be wary of US experiment with global ecology.

    You can stop pollution, or you can accept the planet goes through various climates and adapt, but don’t try to mess with it because we have no idea of the real process and we WILL mess up if we try.
    For example, discovery channel had an experiment to create clouds over the ocean supposedly to reduce global warming, which was actually watched by some politicians and UN doofusses who actually discussed it. But they completely ignore that more than half of the CO2 scrubbing is done by plankton, which resides in the upper level of the ocean, and with clouds less sun penetrates, so less plankton can do their thing, so less CO2 gets scrubbed and if you did that daft thing full scale you’d have a freaking disaster. And it just illustrates that we can’t have some misguided idiots mess with the entire planet. You don’t own it and that should be kept in mind. And no nor does the UN own the planet.

      1. Amen and launch! That will fix things! You can’t fight in here. This is the war room! Wow. Glad Iran will have nukes. They only want to bring about the end times and the return of the 12 Imam through vast human sacrifice, but I’m sure you will be fine. Maybe North Korea will help. Wasn’t there a movie about that?

    1. For clarity: This doesn’t mean we cant’ do local stuff to fix some of the stuff we messed up already, like the deforestation through mad blind policies and stuff like that.
      Or we could do some removing plastics from the ocean (in a non-chemical and non-invasive way), because I’m sure that isn’t helping and probably has effects we did not even discover yet, maybe even on the climate.

      So I’m not knocking the HaD project, just the ‘terraforming’ part.

    1. Those sea rise reports are a bit tricky to take too serious. According to reports from the CIA from the 80’s most of europe is suppose to be gone for a decade already through violent storms and the enormous sea rise. But uhm.. it isn’t.

      Although there is a rise it’s not insane, and although there are weather issues it’s not like they predicted and is manageable. The global weather system is just pretty complex in its interaction and self-affecting features, which are hard to model and predict. And the data we have about the past is sketchy and not a good reliable source to build complex models on. Even with improvements as we try harder to get a picture, like by taking core samples of ancient ice and sediments. Couple all that with political pressure on the subject of the climate, both to make it seem worse and make it seem less worse than it was and is, and you got some major confusion.

      1. +1 Even the most pessimistic numbers are slower than the normal decay and replacement of buildings and infrastructure in modern cities. There is really no cost to adapting. The building and construction and cleanup will happen either way. I tried to trade a big piece of coastal Peru for the Maldive Islands, where they want UN mitigation money. They won’t do the trade. I have a feeling they don’t believe their own claims.

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