A graduate of the Parsons School of Design, New York has developed a remediation mechanism based on termite mounds and use of local resources to arrest the desertification of fertile land. Aquastor by Zihao Fang uses local materials to promote soil growth in desert areas and drylands threatened by desertification.

Fang’s anti-desertification innovation was informed by a 2015 Princeton University research study that suggested that the large dirt mounds created by termites are crucial to stopping the spread of deserts into semi-arid ecosystems and agricultural lands. The study found that termite mounds in the parched grasslands and savannas of Africa, South America and Asia store nutrients and moisture, with internal tunnels in the mounds allowing water to better penetrate the soil. This provides a moist refuge for vegetation in the vicinity of the mounds to thrive and slow the spread of deserts into drylands.

Fang’s Aquastor is a biomimicking vessel made from local materials in desert areas such as leaf litter, stone particles, calcium carbonate, sand and sodium bentonite clay – similar to termite mounds. Featuring a conical shape with a hollowed-out centre, the vessel is partially buried in the soil. Moisture is collected in the porous vessel and funnelled deep into the ground through a hole at the bottom of the vessel, preventing evaporation or water run-off.

“The temperature difference between the surface and the internal structure of my design is used to change the air pressure difference to create a thermal circulation and accumulate moisture,” Fang explained.

According to Fang, Aquastor will be placed on the edge of the desert in a triangular arrangement at one-metre intervals. Each vessel measures 450mm x 450mm x 480mm. The height above the exposed ground line is 320mm. The vessel’s structure prevents the movement and expansion of sand particles affected by natural wind. Eventually, the vessels will be completely degraded and turned into nutrients for the land.

Describing Aquastor as a low-cost, low-tech desertification remediation vessel, Fang said that it can promote soil growth in desert areas, support plant life and slow the advance of desertification in dryland regions.