First-Strike Reforestation

Earlier this month, Macleans looked at the idea of “aerial reforestation,” or the large-scale dropping of tree seedlings using decommissioned military aircraft. Of course, we looked at this same plan many, many years ago—and it turns out the same guy is behind this latest round of journalistic interest.

[Image: Courtesy of Getty Images/Macleans].

Moshe Alamaro, still affiliated with MIT, had previously been pushing his plan for “using a small fertilizing plane to drop saplings in plastic pods one at a time from a hopper,” Macleans explains. The biodegradable canisters would then have “hit the ground at 200 m.p.h.,” MIT explained back in 1997, “and imbed themselves in the soil. Then the canisters decompose and the young trees take root. A large aircraft could drop as many as 100,000 saplings in a single flight: Alamaro’s system could plant as many as a million trees in one day.”

But, Macleans points out, “it wasn’t very fruitful—most pods hit debris during pilot tests and failed to actually take root.”

The idea has thus now been “upgraded,” using different technical means “to create new forests on empty landscapes.”

The process Alamaro advocates places trees in metal pods that rot on contact with the ground, instead of the low-tech and less sturdy plastic version. He says the process can be adapted to plant shrubs, and would work best in places with clear, loose soil, such as sub-desert parts of the Middle East, or newly habitable Arctic tundra opened up by global warming. “What is needed is government policy to use old military aircraft,” he says, adding that thousands are in hangars across the globe. Although the original pitch failed, Alamaro says the growing carbon market is creating new interest, and he hopes to find funding for a large-scale pilot project soon. Once Alamaro gets planes in the air, the last step, says [Dennis Bendickson, professor of forestry], will be to simply “get people out of the way.”

In this context, it’s difficult to resist pointing out Iceland’s own soil-bombing campaign: “Iceland is big and sparsely populated,” the BBC reported in 2005. “There are few roads. So, Icelanders decided to ‘bomb their own country’,” dropping special mixtures of fertiliser and seeds “from a WWII DC 3 Dakota”—carpet-bombing subarctic desert in an attempt to make that emptiness flower.

I feel compelled here to point out a brief scene from the film Hellboy 2, in which we see a “forest god” killed in the streets of Brooklyn (roughly 2:36 in this clip); his green and bubbling blood blooms instantly into a carpet of soft roots and lichen, splashing onto the roofs of cars, sending seedpods from wildflowers and pollinating plants down in drifts along the New York sidewalks. Should a substance that fertile be developed in real life, Alamaro’s—and Iceland’s—plans could be realized in the blink of an eye.

In any case, will Alamaro finally succeed? Will we see whole new woodsy landscapes grow in the wake of sustained rural bombing campaigns—druidic warfare—cryptoforests spreading out from craters and abandoned fields far below? Will we launch seed grenades from sapling artillery, plant improvised explosive devices packed dense with forest nutrients?

(Story found via @treestrategist).

Tree bombs

Two earlier posts here have strangely merged in real life: while we were off soil-bombing Iceland, MIT’s Moshe Alamaro – of the famed anti-hurricane jet engine barges – was strafing the earth with tree seeds. It’s called “aerial reforestation.”

Back in 1997, Alamaro “designed conical canisters, of a starchy biodegradable material, which each contain a seedling packed in soil and nutrients. The canisters are dropped from a low-flying plane, so that they hit the ground at 200 m.p.h., and imbed themselves in the soil. Then the canisters decompose and the young trees take root. A large aircraft could drop as many as 100,000 saplings in a single flight: Alamaro’s system could plant as many as a million trees in one day.”

Whole forests, fired from F-16s. Stealth forestry.

Or, branching off from an earlier comment on the agri-militaristic possibilities of garden wars (“hotheaded dictators and war-time presidents decide to take turns garden-bombing each other” [see comments]), you’d get forest wars, landscape design by Cruise missile: launched from a ship in the Indian Ocean, soon there are rich deciduous forests in the hills of Afghanistan.

Aspen trees. Precision Seedlings®. Bunker busters dropped into the San Andreas fault, where genetically engineered redwood saplings grow so deep they knit the faultline back together…

Riot police discard their plastic bullets and tear gas canisters to fire baby tulip bulbs; you go home and flowers are growing from your wounds… All scars become gardens…

Or on CNN some morning we see ICBMs arcing out of the mid-Atlantic, submarine crews cheering, the hunt for a truly red October now over: new maple tree saplings have been fired – they are reforesting the eastern Canadian plateau –

Or it’s a threat: disarm – or we will reforest you… Using tree bombs…

Katrina 3: Two Anti-Hurricane Projects (on landscape climatology)

Project 1: “How do you slow down a hurricane?”
In the June 2005 edition of The Economist Technology Quarterly (subscription required), we read about Moshe Alamaro, “a scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, [who] has a plan. Just as setting small, controlled fires can stop forest fires by robbing them of fuel, he proposes the creation of small, man-made tropical cyclones to cool the ocean and rob big, natural hurricanes of their source of energy. His scheme, devised with German and Russian weather scientists and presented at a weather-modification conference in April, involves a chain of offshore barges adorned with upward-facing jet engines.”

“Each barge creates an updraft, causing water to evaporate from the ocean’s surface and reducing its temperature. The resulting tropical storms travel towards the shore but dissipate harmlessly. Dr Alamaro reckons that protecting Central America and the southern United States from hurricanes would cost less than $1 billion a year. Most of the cost would be fuel: large jet engines, he observes, are abundant in the graveyards of American and Soviet long-range bombers.”
The creation of manmade tropical micro-storms, using heavy, greenhouse gas-burning jet engines towed through the waters of the equatorial Atlantic on what are, for all intents, artificial islands… is really a pretty ridiculous idea.
Yet it reminds me of a long-standing BLDGBLOG project that has otherwise gone unpublished. Till now:

Project 2: The Aeolian Reef
In Virgil’s *Aeneid*, translated by Robert Fitzgerald, we read about “Aeolia, the weather-breeding isle”:

“Here in a vast cavern King Aeolus
Rules the contending winds and moaning gales
As warden of their prison. Round the walls
They chafe and bluster underground. The din
Makes a great mountain murmur overhead.
High on a citadel enthroned,
Scepter in hand, he molifies their fury,
Else they might flay the sea and sweep away
Land masses and deep sky through empty air.
In fear of this, Jupiter hid them away
In caverns of black night. He set above them
Granite of high mountains – and a king
Empowered at command to rein them in
Or let them go.” (Book 1, Lines 75-89)

Thus: BLDGBLOG’s Aeolian Reef.
To be fair, this all began as nothing more than an idea for a new, artificial island that would be added to the Cyclades archipelago in Greece. It would be somewhere between Constant’s Babylonic mid-sea pavilion –

– an oil derrick –

– the Maunsell Towers

– and a kind of massive, off-shore, geotechnical saxophone.
Full of vaulted tubes and curved ampitheaters – and complex twists through a hollow, polished core – this modern Aeolia, an artificial island, would produce storms (and even, possibly, negate them).
A modern Aeolia, in other words, would be a “weather-breeding isle” – or a “weather-cancelling isle,” as the case may be: because then there was Katrina.
What would happen, I thought, if you built a manmade, weather-cancelling isle that could *stop hurricanes from forming*? I realized, of course, immediately, that you would actually need hundreds of these tuba-like, anti-hurricane islands – even an entire manmade archipelago of them – because the atmospheric paths of storms are far too unpredictable.
You would need, that is, an Aeolian Reef.
The Aeolian Reef – and the current author, who cannot draw, hint-hint, would *love* to collaborate with any BLDGBLOG readers who want to illustrate some of these things – would consist of oil derrick-like platform-islands built in climatologically influential patterns throughout both the Gulf of Mexico and the larger, equatorial Atlantic.
The Aeolian Reef would: 1) trap and redirect high-speed winds from any burgeoning tropical storms and hurricanes, thus preventing them from actually forming; 2) provide incredibly exciting meteorological/atmospheric observation platforms far out at sea; and 3) be readily exportable to other countries and other climates, for other purposes – land-based anti-tornado clusters, for instance.
This would therefore take the subject of an earlier BLDGBLOG post a few steps further: it would use architecture, or landscape architecture, as a way to directly influence, change, or redirect the climate.
It would, in short, be *landscape climatology*.
One could imagine alternative uses, of course; even a computer glitch or global supervillain who rearranges all the internal valves of the Aeolian Reef to generate the mother of all hurricanes… in which case the Reef would be something of a national security threat.

This thread continues in Katrina 1: Levee City (on military hydrology); and Katrina 2: New Atlantis (on flooded cities).