The purpose of 'Operation Desert Bloom' is to tackle these issues described in "The Background" with
the complementary use of two concepts: "aerial dissemination" and "micro-reservoir
A Unique Approach to Revegetation; Operation Desert Bloom allows for mass dissemination of seedlings with high rates of seedling survival. Large-scale dissemination is achieved by means of aerial application. Survival rate is improved by using modules and systems (the "pod" concept) which contain super absorbent crystals (1), growth promotion and protection chemicals, as well as seeds of specifically selected plants. This substitute for soil will allow the seed to germinate by drawing moisture as required over the crucial first 5/6 weeks, thereby nursing the seedling through the early critical stages of growth. The project will therefore provide the conditions necessary to enable plant establishment and colonisation in areas of desertified or degraded land.
After the pod is disseminated, it lies dormant until conditions (ie. rainfall, flash floods and irrigation) trigger the start of the germination process. As the super-absorbent polymer absorbs water, it swells, forming a micro reservoir of plant-available water, which will be colonised and tapped by the roots of the newly emerging seedling. Once the soil dries up, loss of water to evaporation and percolation in the seedling environment is greatly reduced by the design of the pod, thus increasing the chance of survival to establishment stage. As the emerging shoots grow, an opening mechanism allows the root to grow down into the ground. The pod is designed to be as biodegradable as possible, having no harmful effect on the environment.
Outline of the Science; Enormous progress has been made in recent years in the area of "micro-reservoir technology". It seeks to address two of the fundamental problems arising under such conditions. Firstly, to distribute seed combinations of desirable species in areas where natural regeneration is severely impeded, and secondly to avail the seeds of an appropriate support matrix to facilitate successful establishment. It presents the advantage of having the flexibility to allow for distribution by hand, from a moving vehicle, or from the air, enabling mass dissemination - an ultimate objective.
The unique feature of this modular design is its ability to store very large amounts of plant-available water and to retain that moisture against loss from evaporation. Also the module absorbs and retains water for the sole use of the contained seeds; consequently, the developing plants are targeted specifically, with a minimal diverting influence on downstream waterflow.
The micro reservoir system includes use of super-absorbent polymers (2), which have been extensively researched over the last 10 years and are now well known. Although the composition and performance of such polymers vary, years of comparative studies by independent institutions have indicated the products, which perform best across a range of criteria.
Seed Selection; The selection of the seed(s) to be disseminated is extremely important. The type of seeds currently being considered are those which will produce plants that can put roots down very quickly when water is available, so they can reach an aquifer and use the water to survive in the drought. Suitable plant varieties will also be selected on the basis that they are indigenous to the area, conducive to halting soil erosion and degradation and that they are to the economic benefit to indigenous populations of land that is populated.
The Micro-Reservoir Technology; Preliminary investigations have demonstrated rapid and efficient entrapment of rainwater by the module design, whilst laboratory experimentation has confirmed their exceptional water retention characteristics. At temperatures of around 40°C, water-loss by evaporation and other physical processes was low enough to suggest that sufficient water would remain available for plant growth for up to several months following rainfall, compared with a few days under normal germination conditions in soil. The pod has also been designed to reflect heat (thus preventing significant evaporation), to permit taproot penetration of the underlying soil and to withstand impact damage.
The Ecosphere design criteria are: