A conversation with Alpha Lo, physicist and writer of the Climate Water Project, about the importance of slowing water down, the connection between drought, fire, and floods, and the massive role water plays in heating and cooling our planet.
Trees create rain not the other way around. There is just so much to learn about water in all its forms, what it does when it’s part of a healthy watercycle or what it does when it isn’t (e.g. massive floods around the world). With Alpha Lo we try to start to unpack the massive role water plays in heating and cooling of our planet and argue why we should absolutely pay way more attention to water and the watercycle. Potentially it is more important and relevant in the climate discussion than carbon.
LISTEN TO THE CONVERSATION ON:
This episode is part of the Water Cycles series, supported by The Nest, where we interview the dreamers and doers who are using the latest technology to figure out where to intervene first. They are making or trying to make the investment and return calculations. so what is missing, what is holding us back? Maybe we lack the imagination to back them and try regeneration at scale.
WHY WE HAVE TO SLOW WATER DOWN
Rivers can still have the same amount of water going out to the oceans, but if you slow it down, you have more water on the land. River flows come up from the aquifers too, and the groundwater feeds the rivers in the dry season.
”So, if it just flows over the land as runoff, then it flows out all during the wet season, and you don’t have much left for the dry season. But if you can actually slow the water so that it kind of sinks in and goes underground, then it can come out 2, 3, 4 or 5 months later during the dry season so your rivers can keep running. It’s a way to keep your landscape hydrated more during the dry season. And also, if your aquifers are high enough so that the tree roots can reach it, the tree roots, -is called hydraulic redistribution-, can bring up that water during the dry season and then the mycelia can actually pass it to other trees that maybe don’t have deep enough roots to get to the groundwater table” – Alpha Lo
”When the rain comes down, it can flow all the way back into the ocean. But if you slow that water, you have more forest or soil that’s more absorbent and it stays in the land for longer. And then when it vapours transpires, there’s more water left on the land to actually vapour transpires. There’s a certain amount of water in our continents but if it’s all rushing out during the wet season and there’s less water there to evaporate transpire, and that evaporates transpired water combined with the moisture blowing inland from the ocean to create rain, so you’re going to set the amount of rain on your land” – Alpha Lo
VEGETATION AND FORESTS CREATE RAIN, NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND
According to Alpha, dust, pollution, and other things can trigger the rain too. But, when you have more vegetation, these micro-organisms can go in the air, and that can play a role. On the other hand, the forest creates a turbulence, it can blow very fast. But if it doesn’t slow down enough, it’s hard for the water vapour molecules to find each and to nucleate into rain, however, the forest can slow down the wind enough to create rain.
”It’s now kind of becoming a bit more seeping into the mainstream climate science that ‘oh, yeah, forests do create rain.’ And there’s actually a number of aspects that also are maybe influencing this. So, David Sands, he discovered, I think, in the 70s, or 80s, that bacteria were starting to… that they could float up in the air and actually seed rain. And then people discovered that fungi spores could too […] so, when water vapour, when it’s in the air, it needs to be above saturation, humidity, but it also needs something to nucleate it to form rain. And this is still a bit of a nascent field, but it seems like there’s also little microorganisms that can seed the rain. And so, in the forest, you have more of these. So that’s one aspect.” – Alpha Lo
DROUGHT, FIRE AND FLOODS ARE CONNECTED
We need to raise awareness that unless you remediate the soil and replant, whenever there’s a huge fire anywhere in the world, two years later, you will have big floods. People should focus on the drought, fire, floods cycle. These are all part of a whole thing, there’s a connection.
”But people weren’t connecting, and this is happening in Greece, in California, we had droughts, and we had fires […] British Columbia, they had droughts, and then fires and then floods, and in Brazil is having those three. And so, this is a patent all around the world. And for some reason, the only person who is promoting, Zach Weiss, and he’s calling the watershed death spiral.” – Alpha Lo
”So, let me just explain the connection between the three. So, the drought obviously dries up everything, so, that it creates fires is pretty obvious, but that fire-floods is not quite so obvious. So, if your fires get too intense… what happens is that this waxy coating happens on the soil. And so that means that the soil is no longer absorb the rain as much. And so that’s one problem is that then two years later, after you have fire, when the rains come, they just going to flow downhill and they’ll cause huge floods below. And then the other thing is that the fires can destroy some of the vegetation that’s holding in the soil. And so, what happens in floods is that there’s so much water, and maybe it’s stopped further uphill, but then it accumulates, and it just creates these landslides, it triggers more, bigger landslides. So, after a fire, it’s really key to go in and remediate the soil moisture, it’s also key to replant.” – Alpha Lo
WHAT WE CAN DO LOCALLY TO INTERRUPT THIS CYCLE
After the floods, huge amounts of topsoil, which is key to agriculture and to plant growth, is lost, says Alpha, and you then have rains over the next two, or three years, and a lot less is held in the soil. So, you’re decreasing the small water cycle.
”You’re decreasing the amount the aquifers fill up because you need the soil to help guide it into the aquifers. And so, it’s causing a huge problem. And so, then you are more likely to have droughts a few years later. And so, then the cycle continues on and on again. And so again, after floods, it’s important to kind of build up the soil. And, there’re lots of techniques in regen ag and permaculture to grow soil quickly. And also, biodiversity is important, birds can replant seeds, and all sorts of animals play a role in regenerating ecosystems. So that’s the basic cycle, this drought, fire flood cycle. It is such a big deal, that I really feel like we need to focus on it. And I think there’s a whole investing thing, too, because a lot of people can regenerate locally, and a lot of the stuff does help deal with floods or fires or droughts. And so, insurance companies would be very interested in doing a lot of this helping mitigate a lot of this natural disaster. So, they could fund some company […] initiating helping people start these projects because it needs to be done at the local level.” – Alpha Lo
OTHER POINTS DISCUSSED
Koen and Alpha also talked about:
- Water on the land vs. water on the ground
- Hydraulic redistribution of water
- Investing in regenerating ecosystems
- Zach Weiss – Climate change is a symptom of watercycle disturbance and we can fix it
- Walter Jehne, stop talking about carbon emissions and focus on restoring the water cycle
- Maddie Akkermans on changing the weather systems in the Middle East through regeneration at scale
- Elaine Ingham on why healthy soils don’t need rotations
- Stef van Dongen – Regenerating a 100.000HA watershed in Spain while preventing the forest from burning and people from burnouts
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The above references an opinion and is for information and educational purposes only. It is not intended to be investment advice. Seek a duly licensed professional for investment advice.