We see how around the world each year more landscapes are impacted by drought and fire, only to be flooded when the rains do come.
That was abundantly clear in the Australian bushfires of 2020. The fires burned 12 million hectares, killing more than 1 billion animals. And when the rains came the landscape flooded. There was no chance for the parched earth to absorb the rapidly draining rain…
But amidst this disaster, in an especially horrific year of heat and fire, there were also examples of places that were cool and moist, that had no problem weathering the fires. One of these places was the Canberra Botanical Gardens, a Rainforest created by Humans in New South Wales, Australia. The rainforest acts as a green lifeboat. Keeping temperatures cool with photosynthesis throughout the year.
“Every gram of water that is taken up from these soils by this vegetation, needs 590 calories of heat energy to get transformed from liquid to gas, so it has a profound global cooling effect.”
Working with nature, using natural processes, they created this rainforest in a rapidly desertifying landscape. Storing water in the earth was a first critical step, and enhancing the cycling of that water through a misting system. Planting pioneer species was also essential, as they sheltered the ground and created a microclimate. The pioneer trees also produced leaf litter and organic matter. The misting system facilitated the growth of fungi, who converted this organic matter into rich sponge-like soil. This sponge-like soil infiltrates more water and holds it longer into the dry times.
“This rainforest was created not by adding more water, but it was certainly done by enhancing the water cycling.”
“It doesn’t use more water per se, it just conserves and cycles it’s water much more efficiently, and in that way sustains a much, much more productive biosystem.”
The control site for the project shows what the valley was like previously. The rainforest is not only much more productive but it is also a cooler environment that is more buffered against extremes. While the surrounding landscape was unbearably hot and dry, the rainforest was still cool and moist.
Ground temperatures in the Rainforest rarely exceed 25c 77f.
Ground temperatures in the control site regularly exceed 40c 104f
“We’ve got this very interesting paradox between the same forest type, on the same soil, on the same climate. And it can either go into a wet sclerophyll environment, if it’s fungi can get active to break down the litter, to build the hydrology to keep moisture in the system; or if the fungi can’t get active, and then it just accumulates fuel, accumulates and intensifies fire risks, and turns it ever drier, sclerophyll arid zones, rangelands and eventually desert.”
The fungi play a key role in this story, partnering with this kingdom was essential to the project's success. Because the moisture levels were maintained at the forest floor, the fungi were able to break down the organic material. This process produced rich sponge-like soil that also holds moisture much longer into the dry times. When the fungi can’t get active, all of that material dries out and builds up as fuel, leading to the extreme and catastrophic wildfires we have been experiencing.
“Lots of dry litter, it’s just waiting for a wildfire… it is just fuel that is accumulating... which then becomes the basis of an inferno, taking these biosystems ever, ever more into degraded, desertified, aridified, landscapes.”
70 to 95 percent of the global heat dynamics of Earth are regulated by the water cycle. Over the last 10,000 years humans have desertified ⅓ of Earth’s land. This is the root cause behind the drought, flood, and fire we have been experiencing with increasing regularity and severity. Water Cycle Disturbance is directly leading to the worst impacts of climate change. By working with water and nature we can create a prosperous future.
“95% of that 342 watts is regulated through hydrology, through a whole sequence of hydrological processes, about 4%, less than 4% is driven by the co2 component of the greenhouse effect.”
“Instead, there’s 95% of the heat dynamics, that is actually managed through hydrology, which we can actually use naturally and safely to cool the planet.”
“We can turn that greenhouse effect down from ultra high to simmer, without actually having to change the CO2 concentration of the atmosphere.”
“Both the formation of clouds and the formation of raindrops again is governed biologically, to a large extent, by the production of what we call precipitation nuclei. Water can’t come out of the air just by itself, it needs to be nucleated and precipitate around a droplet that’s big enough and heavy enough to fall out under gravity. And these hygroscopic precipitation nuclei are then critical in creating these clouds, and rain. And guess what - Over half of the earth’s rainfall and clouds are driven biologically by precipitation nuclei produced by vegetation.”
“It has a profound effect, these forests, in actually cooling the climate. And of course this is what we have to do globally.”
“Unless we find ways of rapidly cooling the climate through natural biosystems like this, we risk just getting warmer and warmer, drier and drier, and losing water security, food security, habitat, biodiversity, and the whole ecological life support systems we depend on.”
“What’s critically important isn’t how much rain we get, but what happens to every raindrop that we do get.”
“Instead of wasting this water, losing this water and having all of these negative consequences we can make this water an extremely valuable ecosystem service asset, and we do that simply by regenerating the earth’s soil carbon sponge.”
“Regenerating landscapes, re-greening landscapes we can naturally and safely cool the planet.”
“Through respecting, understanding and restoring, regenerating nature we can rapidly turn things around.”
“Very practical, extremely profitable, simple things that everybody can do at an individual, community, grassroots level.”
- Take action for water
- Retain water on the landscape
- Facilitate the growth of the soil carbon sponge
- Plant a tree, or even better plant a forest
- Discuss water stewardship with your network
- Support those working for water
- Champion the importance of the water cycle
- Learn about your local water cycle