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Could flooding the Sahara be a feasible solution to climate change?

It may sound far-fetched, but creating a sea in place of the Sahara Desert has been a topic of discussion for centuries. Inspired by a massive flood that created the Mediterranean Sea as we know it, could we see a Sahara Sea project come to life in the future?

In recent weeks, the idea of flooding the Sahara desert to combat climate change has resurfaced in the scientific community. Yes, seriously.

Similar plans to flood the El Djouf basin in West Africa were first proposed by Scottish engineer Donald McKenzie in 1877, long before the world began rapidly warming.

McKenzie’s motivations for creating a water channel in this location were said to be rooted in boosting economic, social, and military advantages in Africa.

As we teeter along the tipping point of a global climate emergency, it’s becoming clear that even the most radical ideas aren’t completely off the table – so as long as they offer some kind of potential ecological salvation.

A few notable concepts we’ve covered require reflecting sunlight into space, turning to moon dust, and painting every sky-facing surface in cities with very expensive white paint.

Obviously, flooding the Sahara would be a mammoth-sized geoengineering project with highly unpredictable results. But for the sake of entertaining the idea, how exactly would we make it a reality?

We should consider that flooding the Sahara Desert was inspired by the widely accepted theory that the Mediterranean Sea was formed by a massive flood.

Around 6 million years ago, the area we know as the Mediterranean Sea dried up entirely. Scientists believe it had been cut off from the Atlantic Ocean at some point, causing the sea to dry up during a prolonged period of drought.

Though scientists aren’t sure exactly how or why this phenomenon happened, they point to a drastic shift in tectonic plates paired with overall dwindling sea levels on Earth.

What was left of the Mediterranean was a large basin full of salt that then connected Europe to North Africa.

So how did the Mediterranean Sea become what it is today, a renowned holiday spot that boasts pristine blue waters and rich marine biodiversity? Scientists point to the Zanclean flood, which brought a raging flow of water back to the area.

Replicating this historical event in the Sahara has been pondered and put forward for centuries without any action.

It’s likely that the attractiveness of hydroelectric power, the need for additional water sources in North Africa, as well as our desperate need for larger carbon sinks, are motivating the plan’s current resurgence.

Those wanting to see the Sahara Sea become a reality say that the project would generate a lifeline for the region.

They say that simulating a natural flood in the middle of an almost lifeless place would allow it to eventually become abundant in various types of microorganisms, algae, trees, and animals.

They add that, eventually, the new source of water and all plant life around it could even become one of the world’s newest and most vital carbon sinks. Still, not all scientists are convinced.

A Silicon Valley start-up called Y Combinator has become invested in making this project a reality. The firm has predicted that roughly 238 trillion gallons of desalinated ocean water would be needed to fill 1.7 million acres of deserted land.

But pumping and desalinating all this water would require so much energy that existing electrical grids across the world would not be capable of completing the job. Oh, and the project would cost a whopping $50 trillion USD.

Even without these huge obstacles, scientists aren’t optimistic that flooding the Sahara would even work out.

In an already water-sparse area with extremely high levels of evaporation, there’s no guarantee the Sahara Sea would remain long enough to sustain the gradual development of biodiversity.

Not to mention, the Sahara Sea might well swap one problem for another. It risks potentially wiping out the few rare creatures that do survive well in this extreme environment.

They point out that the changes we can make with existing technology – halting the use of fossil fuels, making a radical shift towards green energy, and reducing environmental destruction overall – are far more feasible steps towards solving our current ecological dilemma.

If the speed at which most eco-projects take off is anything to go by, it seems unlikely that something as risky as transforming the Sahara Desert into a sea will happen in our lifetime.

But if it does – and I wouldn’t put it past the dudes in Silicon Valley to at least try get this done – let’s hope those responsible have prepared for the best and most catastrophic outcomes.