Carl Hodges, a longtime Arizona innovator and prominent atmospheric scientist who was one of the first to recognize and address climate change using seawater, died Saturday morning at the age 84 after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
During his career, Hodges was known to have developed and pioneered systems to combat climate change, sea level rise and global poverty by using seawater to develop agriculture and employment.
Beth Hodges, Carl’s wife of around 35 years, said he started suffering from memory loss about a year ago. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease a few months ago and passed away on Saturday, shortly after his birthday, she said.
Carl’s colleagues, friends and family remember Carl as a humble, kind and determined man who understood climate change early on and could turn simple resources into something useful, they said.
“He knew what was going to happen and he worked from country to country to help people understand that there were ways to start solving this problem,” said Margaret Mullen, former executive director of the Seawater Foundation. “He was just a very humble man who wanted to do whatever he could to prevent a catastrophe in the global environment.”
In the 1960s, Carl discovered how to desalinate seawater with solar power in Mexico
Hodges was born in 1937 in Texas and moved to Phoenix with his family when he was 10 years old. Her father was a horse trainer and trained horses for their neighbors, Dr. Robert Flinn and Peggy Flinn of the Flinn Foundation, an organization that awards scholarships to students of biological sciences, arts and culture, and public universities in Arizona. .
Dr Flinn helped pay for Carl’s college education as a family friend, which helped Carl’s life as a leading scientist, according to a spokesperson for the Flinn Foundation and Beth. , who said Carl was the first in his family to attend college. Carl also worked in construction during the summers.
Carl graduated from the University of Arizona in 1959 with a mathematics degree, then returned as a graduate student, joined the Institute for Atmospheric Physics, and became supervisor of the Solar Energy Research Lab at college, according to his friends and family.
He studied efficient ways to water the desert using resources like the ocean, which makes up about 96.5% of the Earth’s water supply. As a graduate student, Carl, at 24, discovered how to desalinate seawater using a solar still purifier, which used the heat of the sun to evaporate seawater.
His goal was to make the desert green, according to a 1962 Saturday Evening Post magazine article, which called Carl a “water wizard.”
With a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, Carl and his team built inflatable greenhouses in Puerto Penasco, Mexico that used fresh water distilled from seawater for crops like cucumbers, squash and tomatoes. . He then traveled to discuss water and food production with communities around the world.
“Carl was a genius, who thought about the greatest and most pressing existential problems facing humanity,” said Dino DeConcini, Carl’s colleague and friend for 50 years. “He set out to do what he felt had to be done. And he had the capacity to raise resources, money and expertise.”
Carl developed seawater farms to help poor communities
In 1967, Carl became the founding director of the Environmental Research Laboratory at the University of Arizona, where he spent much of his career and developed numerous projects using the sea. In his next assignment, Carl has discovered how to use seawater to irrigate crops, plants, land and food.
In Eritrea, which lies along the Red Sea in Africa, Carl developed a saltwater farm, which once employed around 800 people and shipped 1 ton of shrimp each week, according to a Vanity Fair article on the farm. by Carl in 2007.
“It was very, very important to have whole communities based on seawater and to provide jobs for people that they could be proud of… and have a good life for their families,” Beth told The Arizona Republic. .
Through a channel, seawater from the ocean moves inland and serves as a supply for fish, shrimp and shellfish. Seawater, filled with excrements of marine life, is used as a fertilizer to irrigate nearby fields with salt-tolerant plants like samphire, a protein-rich food source with oil that can be used as biodiesel. Seawater also watered the mangroves for timber.
Carl was one of the first people to create an integrated seawater system to restore ecosystems, according to the Vanity Fair article. Carl built the farm in Eritrea after developing and experimenting with a seawater farm in Mexico and researching over 1,000 halophytes that could grow on seawater, Beth said.
Carl has been a consultant for well-known climate projects
Throughout his career, Carl also founded and directed the Seawater Foundation and was well known for accomplishments such as helping with the design of the Land Pavilion at the EPCOT Center at Walt Disney World in Florida in the late 1970s.
He was also a senior consultant for Biosphere 2 at the University of Arizona, a $ 150 million closed ecological research center for controlled studies with seven major ecosystems. Biosphere 2 was originally developed as a habitat capable of replicating the vital characteristics of Earth in a sealed environment for Mars, according to an Arizona Republic article in 1986.
“The eight ‘biospheres’, who will live in the biosphere for two years,’ will be able to drink water from a fountain which is the same water that has passed through the sewage system, the fish production system, etc. ., and be happy with it, ”Carl said in the 1986 article.
Carl also consulted with well-known organizations like NASA and the National Center for Atmospheric Research and had some of his previous work in Mexico funded by Coca-Cola through the university’s environmental lab, his wife said. It has also conducted trials in countries like Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, she added.
Carl developed the Solar Oasis project to reduce heat in downtown Phoenix
In the 1980s, Carl had taken an idea from the Middle East and proposed a solar oasis to help reduce heat and pollution in Phoenix, where he served as an advisor for a number of projects, said Terry Goddard, former mayor of Phoenix and former attorney general of Arizona.
“Solar energy, which saw its first application in this state to power irrigation pumps in the 1910s, has suffered dramatic peaks and valleys, not least due to exaggerated expectations in times of crisis and doubt. in times of pessimism, ”Carl said in a statement. Article from the Republic of the 1980s.
The 30-foot cold towers pulled hot air over the water and down the towers. The air would then come out cleaner and about 40 degrees cooler at the base of the tower, Carl said in 1987. “Goddard said.
The towers would also provide utility companies with “relief from electricity demands,” a Republic article wrote in 1987. “Using this technique could reduce their peak summer months,” Carl said in a report. interview. Most of the electricity in the oasis was supplied by photovoltaics, which Carl said was an “upcoming technology” for generating electricity and cheaper than using power lines.
A day before the project opened, Carl and Beth invited friends and colleagues to the towers for their 1987 wedding. “It was a surprise wedding,” Beth said.
Solar Oasis remained open all summer of that year, Beth said. The goal was to expand the project to Phoenix, but the bond project failed and therefore did not continue.
Carl received a Lifetime Achievement Award from Arizona State University
In March 2020, a year before his death, Carl was surprised with a Lifetime Achievement Award from Arizona State University’s Global Futures Laboratory, according to a university spokesperson.
His colleagues and family said his legacy was his work to desalinate the water and “green” the desert and to turn common elements into “something extraordinary,” like an alchemist, Goddard said.
“He was a giant, he was an extraordinary visionary,” said Goddard. “Much of the environmental movement today owes its roots to Carl Hodges.”
Now Beth has said Carl has “opened the door” to her work on a large scale. She said he was a person who “got down and got his nails dirty and dug ditches” and made sure that what needed to be done for the people in the communities he was helping was done.
“I am very proud of the work, very proud of it,” she said. “Agriculture and seawater communities are now going to take place on the planet. It’s an accomplishment that very few people have ever been able to do, to open up something that has the potential to be this large, when scaled up. “
Carl is survived by his wife, four children and 10 grandchildren, according to his family.