SEMINAR: CWR Special Seminar
|CWR Special Seminar : “Growing our future - the challenge and promise of the desert!
The coastal strip of Israel is densely populated and suffers from all the common drawbacks of densely populated areas: air, soil and groundwater pollution; high land prices; chronic traffic congestions; urban violence, etc. The Negev covers sixty per cent of Israel’s surface but is home to less than ten per cent of its population. Therefore it is clear that the future development of Israel will take place in the Negev. Ben-Gurion’s famous dictum that “In the Negev will the people of Israel be tested” has never been more appropriate and relevant than now.
The great challenge that faces the present generation is how to ensure that the development of the Negev is sustainable both in its physical and human dimensions. The scarcity of water in arid regions in general, and of the Negev in particular, results in a lack of readily available sources of food and conventional energy.
These three core issues have therefore to be addressed. Ben Gurion University’s Blaustein Institute for Desert Research (BIDR) main efforts are geared to explore and provide new approaches that will ensure the provision of food and energy using marginal sources of water, designed for the future inhabitants of the Negev and of Israel.
Of course, the three are intertwined. One cannot talk about one of them without mentioning at least one of the others. Energy is necessary to pump water and spread it, production of food requires water, and the production of biofuels for green energy often competes for the water and land necessary for food production. Research is therefore multidisciplinary by necessity.
The problems facing the development of the Negev are however not unique, but are shared by other countries in arid or semi-arid regions of our planet and therefore BIDR’s research efforts have global relevance.
The high solar energy radiation common to desert-like areas is normally perceived negatively, but can be the main source of energy for the whole country. BIDR’s scientists have developed the concentrated photovoltaics approach and develop new and more efficient photovoltaic cells.
Agriculture production in Israel is mainly based on irrigated crops and 50% of the water used is treated waste water. The coastal plain of Israel was the area in which there was a very intensive agricultural activity. The increase in urbanization of this area has led to a decrease of the former. In the National Master Plan for 2020, the northern part of Israel’s western desert (Negev) has been selected as the area in which agricultural development would take place using either treated wastewater or brackish water from the underlying aquifer. In both cases the water has to be treated prior to its use, the main treatment being filtration.
Thus the development of filters that minimize clogging, and therefore the need for their cleaning or replacement, is being addressed by another group of BIDR’s researchers. The interaction between the surface characteristics of filters and bacteria and viruses are studied in great detail and novel filters with surface characteristics that minimize bacterial colonization have been developed.
The efficient use of water, this scarce and precious commodity, is as well the objective of other groups of BIDR that deal with different aspects of water use. These activities range from trying to unlock the genetic code of desert plants that could help improve the productivity of conventional crops, developing novel irrigation techniques that save water, studying the fate of irrigation water that is not absorbed by plants, rediscovering ancient techniques that use flood waters to produce fodder and firewood, and the use of brackish water to produce algae derived products with high market values or biofuels.
The Negev is also home to a wide variety of plants and animals. Studying their behavioural patterns and defining the conditions under which this amazing biodiversity in flora and fauna can be maintained is the task of the world-renown Mitrani Center for Desert Ecology.
Developing minimum energy consuming dwellings and living quarters is the task of a group of architects that has made a mark in the region. Human relations between the various ethnic groups in the Negev are, needless to say, of crucial importance to the successful implementation of the techniques we develop, and are the subject of study of a group of anthropologists and social scientists.
At the core of all our research activities are our graduate students. They are drawn to the BIDR from all over the world and are keen to study with world-renowned experts. Most of them return to their home countries, located in areas that often suffer from a lack of fresh water, food and energy in order to implement the lessons of their studies. Israeli students become the wave of future scientists and policy-makers, keeping Israel at the forefront of desert research. Working closely with their advisers, the students of the BIDR conduct research with wide-ranging implications and achieve impressive breakthroughs.
Dr Pedro's main research interest is the efficient use of water in rainfed agricultural systems and planted forests in drylands.
Drylands have been settled since time immemorial and in order to be able to do so desert-dwellers developed ingenious techniques. He have studied and developed the techniques that make use of flood waters for the irrigation of orchards and forests planted in arid zones, with a focus on the evaporation of water from the surface of bare soils and between the rows of crops. He is involved in the development, testing and modeling of agricultural techniques that increase the water use efficiency of crops and planted forests.
PS* This seminar is free and open to the public, no RSVP required.
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