Amazing Aquatic Architecture: How to Build a Waterfall in the Middle of the Desert

Desert Cascades

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Earlier this week, we took a look at Ap Verheggen’s incredibly unorthodox plan to build ice sculptures in the middle of the Sahara Desert (it isn’t nearly as crazy as it sounds). Well, Verheggen is at it again!

This second proposed art piece, Desert Cascades, operates on many of the same principles as his frigid SunGlacier. The contraption would use the abundance of solar energy in the desert to power cooling cells, which would create condensation and eventually a steady flow of water. You have to wonder whether it could possibly generate water quickly enough to support a full-blown waterfall, but apparently Verheggen knows his stuff. He’s the cultural ambassador of the UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education. Plus, he did manage to successfully test a design that would create ice cubes in the middle of the desert. A waterfall suddenly doesn’t seem so far-fetched.

Desert Cascades

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Unfortunately, Desert Cascades hasn’t been properly tested (unlike the SunGlacier, which showed promising results in a trial run). Verheggen argues on his blog that “with the increasing speed of solar technology, [Desert Cascades] could soon be growing – as is SunGlacier – closer to becoming a functioning reality.” In fact, tinkering with his SunGlacier design has helped Verheggen and his team understand what he would need to do to make Desert Cascades a reality — or as he puts it, he “learned a lot about water while making ice.”

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty hopeful. Between the developing SunGlacier technology, the success of the first trial run, and the resources that Verheggen has at his disposal, we may very well see sandy lakes and frigid glaciers nestled between the sand dunes of the Sahara Desert. For decades, science fiction writers have been dreaming of a future wherein astronauts terraform distant planets and asteroids to make them suitable for life. We might not even need to leave terra firma to make that a reality. Can you imagine what the impact would be if Verheggen and others use aquatic architecture to make the Sahara Desert habitable? I mean, just look at it!

Sahara Desert

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The Sahara Desert covers nearly half of Africa. Transforming that arid wasteland into a verdant paradise could free up thousands of square miles of previously uninhabitable real estate. It reminds me of Dune, wherein the inhabitants of the arid desert planet try to collect enough water to spark an aquatic revolution.

I might be getting ahead of myself (and Verheggen, for that matter). In the near future, the most that Desert Cascades will be able to do is provide free, clean drinking water to locals. It will also serve as a beacon to the world, proving that aquatic architecture can fundamentally reshape the way that humans interact with the environment.

What do you think? Do Verheggen’s SunGlacier and Desert Cascades designs offer us a glimpse of the future? Or is it simply too impractical to ever make a real impact on drought-stricken regions?


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