Aquaponics for a Changing Climate

There is clear evidence that climate change is a very real threat to our future, particularly to our ability to produce food. We take many of our resources for granted and are only diminishing them with our current methods of industrial agriculture, leading to water pollution, soil degradation, and air pollution; just a few of many consequences. With temperatures reaching higher and higher peaks, the severity and frequency of storms and droughts increasing, and our soils becoming less fertile (and contaminated by chemicals), our agricultural practices are at great risk of failure in the future.

The conventional cultivation of crops requires a very specific combination of components in order to be successful. Some of the various inputs to be considered are proper sunlight, correct quantities of nitrogen and phosphorus, appropriate soil salinity, and adequate amounts of water. With climate change, areas that were once ideal for growing certain crops may now be too hot. As the sea rises with increasing temperatures, saltwater intrusion (which leads to higher soil salinity) will be a larger issue along the coasts, preventing farmers in coastal regions from growing crops that are not salt tolerant. Water availability is another headache for farmers in areas such as the western United States, which has recently experienced periods of significant drought. Our food security depends on finding a form of agriculture that can be effective in various environments, produce efficiently, and that will have a small or negligible footprint.

Aquaponics is a versatile solution to the plethora of climate-induced problems. The main benefit many people see from aquaponics is its ability to conserve water (it uses 10% of the water that soil based farming requires, while conserving approximately 95% of this water). However, there is much more to it than conserving water. By just using water, farmers will not have to worry about soil quality. This will allow aquaponics to be applied virtually anywhere there is clean water. So for those plots of land with contaminants such as heavy metals or high levels of salt, an aquaponics system can simply be built over it. Farmers will not have to worry about soil-borne diseases either, allowing us to worry about one less food production issue.

Moreover, these systems can also be built inside, preventing severe weather from taking a toll on crop production. Climate change will increase the intensity and frequency of storms, so by farming inside, we will not have to worry as much about potential food shortages due to a storm wiping out crops. Residential buildings could feature aquaponics systems for residents and local restaurants could grow their fruits and vegetables in-house, which would cut down on the long distance transportation of food. The development of urban farming will prevent food miles from racking up, cutting down significant amounts of greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, the production achieved from indoor aquaponics could be significant, for aquaponics based plants in general grow three times faster than traditional soil-based crops. With systems being built indoors, we can maximize our use of space, which will also be critical as populations continue to grow.

Aquaponics has yet to be applied on a large scale, but with time, this will change. There is tremendous potential in its ability to mass-produce quickly and efficiently while leaving a minimal footprint, and this potential has yet to be fully harnessed. There is no doubt that with more research and development that the application of aquaponics can be a solution to many of our major food security issues.

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