Island Engineering: Rediscovering the Roots of Progress

About this Blog (PART 1) Introducing a New Field of Engineering (Posted 2020 March 17)

This is a book-in-writing – or it could be a manual, a guide-book or a syllabus in innovative engineering. As implied, it seeks to integrate available relevant histories, knowledge, information, methods and plans from all possible sources, disciplines, fields of study and research, including laws, statutes or codes and other accepted indigenous, cultural, private and government beliefs, practices and standards of operation to formulate, design and implement programs and projects that concern the habitability, integrity, sustainability and posterity of an island of any size whatsoever. Technical talk aside, the layman would say this is a new way of looking at harnessing natural resources using traditional, organic or natural methods from ancient times while applying essential, effective and practicable principles of modern engineering to island development. The naturalist, on the other hand, would ask: How does a person, whose life and well-being totally depend on an island, care for himself, for others and for the island itself while allowing everything (humans and the environment) to thrive and grow for many generations?      

Certainly, the question has been asked. The answers, however, seem to be absent or, at the least, dispersed within the piling archives of human knowledge and left unappreciated and applied to make a lasting difference in our fast-changing and fast- deteriorating world. We can be easily mesmerized by flashy photos or concept designs of magnificent and gigantic structures vying to become the latest wonders of architecture and engineering which are supposedly meant to enhance transportation, communication, industry, commerce and habitation. Technology, the “latest” especially, has a way of distracting us from the “organic technology” that has worked for millennia without human hands and ideas tinkering with it and benefited them while allowing Nature to remain undisturbed and undiminished. But Mother Nature graciously gives in to our ways and still functions as much she can, according to her ancient ways. Until she can no longer give of herself. And who pays for her eventual failure?

For with every house or building we put up, we take from the land or the island, thus, changing everything that the land contains and supports. Cut a tree and you cut the natural support for light, water, air, soil, bacteria, insects, animals and humans that should have been maintained in order for the tree to support life and the environment the way it was supposed to achieve. Multiply that a hundred or more times on a small island and you practically kill the island. Look at a modern city. In a sense, it could also be an island – a dead island. Yes, there are humans living in it. But where are the fruits trees and their rich soil, the birds and their nests, the clean rivers and streams, the lakes and their thriving fauna, and the meadows and the grazing animals?

Could we not have built our homes without destroying all the things that made the island an island? The way ancient people did? Maybe it is too late to ask or even to go back. But we will try to answer the question and find ways to address certain problems that may help our modern ways become more responsive to the island’s – and our — well-being. That is the goal of Island Engineering through this blog.

Community-Writing a Book

Anyone is welcome to contribute to or comment on this work, whether you are a grade-schooler, a housewife, a father, a teacher, a dentist, an urban planner, a seaman, a carpenter, an architect, a professional engineer or a businesswoman. Whatever valuable input anyone might share toward forming a compendium on Island Engineering, as we will define it further here, will be a rock that will help build the foundation of a future source of information on how leaders, planners, communities and individuals can base or adapt their work and lives with sufficient confidence and intelligence to make important and well-informed decisions.

Although islands exist in all parts of the world, we will begin with the collective knowledge and experiences from one country, Philippines, land of birth and being for many of us. Having travelled and seen many of its emerald islands from the sky, on the land, by the coasts and under the seas, there is no doubt that these blessed islands possess all that a people could possibly need to live peacefully while being afforded with the freedom to enjoy the blessings of the islands through many generations. Although many natural and human-induced challenges persist and seem insurmountable, proper management using reliable and proven knowledge and technology will provide a bright promise for us to be equal to the many difficult tasks.

We now undertake this endeavor while keeping in mind our limitations imposed upon us by many unknown and unseen factors along the way. This first step in our journey gives us victory already.   

If you wish to comment or contribute any relevant idea or solution to this effort, please write in the box provided below or send an email to Vince Ragay at any of these addresses: [email protected] or [email protected].


The Pilipino people live in an archipelago composed of more than 7,100 islands located in the typhoon-and-earthquake-prone, western limits of the Pacific Ocean, sharing that distinction with such nations as Japan, Taiwan, Korea, Borneo, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore. The predominantly freedom-loving and exuberant inhabitants consider each island a precious pearl or gem dropped from Heaven upon the waters of Southeast Asia. The legend may seem fanciful; however, it actually describes the multi-faceted value of each island not only to its residents and their neighboring island dwellers but also to all the tiny and large living organisms that form part of the web of life and the underlying ecosystem that further sustains the delicate balance of life within this precious gem.

Managing each unique island, therefore, involves precise knowledge and skills that would push the limits of any person or group tasked with the goals of maintaining balance and checking the equitable distribution of energy and resources for every vital, living inhabitant, no matter how small, within its outermost limits. For example, the marine life that thrives around a hectare-sized island within a ring of coral reefs presents a foundational support that can help sustain the protein source for land life (as food, fertilizer and supplementary nutrients), which in return, feeds back the same benefits in the form of waste that recycles through the growth and decomposition of flora and fauna, the effects of climatic and geologic processes, such as precipitation, weathering and erosion, and the symbiotic activities of humans.

But we paint an ideal picture, one that may have occurred thousands of years ago when only a handful of islanders dwelt on these islands. Today, the picture jumps forward to a chaotic interplay of natural and artificial processes where the ultimate victor is neither of the two. No matter how the ecosystem adapts to humans, there will inevitably result a corresponding decrease in the human capacity to survive, produce and reproduce with every adaptation that humans also create that, by itself, affects further the capacities of the ecosystem. An interesting case is the role that water plays as a resource, as well as a material component in the geophysical framework of the human environment. We will dwell on this matter in order to further illustrate and clarify the approach we wish to present in this series of lessons and discussions as we define and develop the whole idea of Island Engineering into a special and general field of study or research and one that has potential practical application.

Water as a Resource

Although not considered a nutrient, water is essential to life and its processes. Nothing, not even the entire biosphere (that part of the globe where life dwells), will exist without water. The Earth might as well be Mars or the Moon without water. Our planet is blessed with and has definitely been blessed by water, beyond the fundamental or organic meaning. Plants, animals and humans are more than 70% water, by weight alone. Water is practically a fuel more precious and more vital than oil. Without the continuing cycle of water as the dynamic backbone of the ecosystem, we would have no ecosystem to talk about, no biology, no life whatsoever.

In our effort to define Island Engineering, therefore, water will serve as a good starting point and process-flow determinant, so to speak. How and where it flows, literally and figuratively will guide us well in our task of creating a working model for every island. After all, an island is basically a piece of rock-and-soil material surrounded by water but is, in itself, invaded by water and is, in fact, dependent on water for its development as a productive, thriving island. An uninhabited rock can be an island as well; but it can still have life of some form that is somehow viable. Preserving and enhancing that life is part of Isle Engineering. Moreover, exploring the tiny island and discovering its secret nooks will contribute to our overall view of the scheme of things. For ultimately, while we may study a particular island, we also have the goal of studying the whole archipelago as one and how it relates to that island, for its coastlands and water currents somehow affect other islands and dwellers. For instance, did you know that seeds of various plants, coconut in particular, colonize other islands by floating and travelling long distances before germinating and growing into maturity? In a way, that is natural Island Engineering at work! No island is an island.

A coconut-forested island in Palawan

In the greater picture, water can sustain the life of a vast variety of life in an island that requires humans to step into the picture to provide the lead in addressing the challenges and needs of every aspect of that life. “Subduing the land” roughly, but ultimately, defines the purpose of Island Engineering. For God did not make islands to keep them to themselves, sustain life, grow food and to feed nothing but mere “creeping things”. Then the greater mystery that needs solving is why humans exist at all and why many of them live on islands! So, we are in for an exciting search for vital answers. Looking at a map of the Philippines may dampen such childish enthusiasm. For an island the size of Luzon or Mindanao presents us with greater challenges than would an islet.

How water is harnessed, stored, distributed, utilized and disposed of takes the bulk of the tasks of what Island Engineering must address in order to ensure that this vital resource is made available to all island dwellers in sufficient and economical amount, where they need it and in a condition or quality that is most conducive to their survival and sustenance. The various fields of sciences and engineering already provide presently the compendium of knowledge and technology that together seek to solve issues and create programs and mechanisms that resolve them in efficient ways. Mountain dams, for example, help to store rainwater for our water supply needs. These dams also generate electricity to run our industries and homes. Water treatment plants make water potable for humans; and sewerage treatment plants, in turn, makes wastewater safe for the environment as it flows out. Although our water distribution systems are a limited, artificial construct integrated into the longstanding and pre-existing natural water cycle that has functioned since the beginning, it is one of the most efficient and affordable methods we have so far.

A process, though not perfect, can help us in many ways. But do we stop there? Can we innovate on it? Can we totally tweak dams in order to come up with one that may also be imperfect yet less destructive, less costly and more reproducible? These are some of the questions Island Engineering must look into.    

(Map and photo above courtesy of Google Map and www.google.com, respectively.)

ISLAND ENGINEERING (PART 2)How Water Formed the Earth (Posted 2020 July 30)

Pampanga River in Central Luzon in the rain

Water also as Geophysical Agent  

Beyond providing sustenance for biological life, water plays the more expansive role as geophysical agent. Aside from the rhythmic tidal and wave actions that an island’s surrounding sea produces continually, aiding in weathering, erosion and displacement of soil materials and vegetation, we must consider the important effects of precipitation on an island.             

When rain falls upon an island, say near the shore, the water retention time on the land and into the soil is much lower compared to that of rain falling on top of the mountains. Water that percolates into the ground could remain there for years and decades. Removing the effect of evaporation, the amount of water that falls upon the land is practically the same amount that the sky has given. The land has no more desire to keep water to itself than the sky has to keep it for itself. Both the land and the sky are servants of the Sun!

The so-called “channels of the deep seas” can be said to also exist as “channels in the sky”, which are no better or bigger than the river channels that meander down to the sea – because they are one and the same. Though we see rain fall in “sheets”, it actually does so as individual drops when each tiny dust of “rain-parent” attracts water-vapor molecules to condense as a raindrop. But once the drops reach the land, they cease to be separate drops and join the stream of water as one flowing body over the land. Through a gaseous fluid (air) which allows it to freely fall and to catch ions, aerosols, microorganisms, toxic elements, insects and colloidal pollutants, water effectively works as a sieve to cleanse the atmosphere and to restore it into a fresh, clean working-room in which life-giving gases can once more reclaim their space to rejuvenate life any place they can reach — in our lungs, in the trees, in the sky and in the crevices of the land.

And so, the land once again breathes in the new air, giving out oxygen, carbon dioxide, methane, sulfur, hydrochloric sulfurs, bacteria, viruses, dust, gases and aerosols. But the rainwater has likewise fed the land with new water while allowing the land to breathe as it should (through the gases that rain carries into the soil). Water is not only for drinking; it is also for renewing and transforming the land in small and gigantic ways. This is just the start of the water’s journey to the ocean; yet, we have seen how much is already happening before it even flows.

The microbiological processes provide Island Engineers work on determining how water acts as a solvent, a carrier, an energy source or semiconductor. All these will help us appreciate water’s many inner cycles within the bigger cycle we will picture here. And from there, we can see how we may be shortchanging other organisms through our “artificial water-cycle” projects. Dams may give humans water, electricity and food; but we could be starving, strangling and even drowning other lands and animals, and, in fact, other people, animals, plants and even ancient human cultures. Perhaps, it is truly time for a less-destructive alternative.

Raindrops on a bus window pane

How Condensation Really Works and its Engineering Value

We have to retrace our steps in our journey with water. At a certain temperature called the dew-point temperature, water vapor in the air condenses and forms molecules of water, from 10 microns to 5 mm on size, to form clouds which could eventually fall as rain. To understand the basic process, let us take a cool bus ride.

Riding an air-conditioned bus in these tropical isles during the hot season, we feel fortunate to be inside rather than outside. If we tilt the air-con vanes toward the window, we will see, in a matter of minutes, water globules forming on the window pane, out-side. By and by, each globule becomes so heavy that it slides down and joins another below it and they join other globules in their path and form a trace of “tears” on the window, like a tiny river streaming along simultaneously down with others to form an actual sheet of rain before our eyes. What just happened is almost exactly what happens when it rains.

The cold interior of the bus brings down the temperature of the glass pane to cause the warm air outside (or, at least, the thin space right next to the cold glass surface) to reach the condensation level (16o C). Tilt the bus window to simulate the actual conditions in the sky — hold on to your seats! The glass will now be the level where water vapor turns into liquid and drops as rain. Beforehand, however, we need cold wind coming from the mountain to cool down the warm, humid air hovering over the heated land. During the rainy season when the Sun has heated up the land enough so that, usually by afternoon, so much water has evaporated and formed thick, heavy white clouds, condensation can produce the same domino-effect that one globule triggers on the glass pane and cause rain to fall in torrents.

From our two-dimensional example, we now have a simple 3-D view of rain. Multiply that a million times and you get cats and dogs! However, this process happens all the time – each night when dew forms on the leaves, each time we turn on our air-con or each time we cook rice or boil water. Even the leaves of trees can form dew in the daytime. The amount of water moisture hanging upon the land is an untapped source of sufficient water to fulfill certain personal and household needs. It is practically a gaseous dam waiting to be utilized. In the arid regions, people once built “air-wells” which harvested water vapor for drinking and watering plants. Again, our “artificial-water-cycle” projects have robbed us of many opportunities to develop grassroots-methods that could serve small to medium-sized communities – or a whole sizable island!   

What prevents us from building so many air-wells (mini water-farms) to collect moisture at night and using that pure water for drinking and for watering house plants? The trees in the forests do it to water themselves, besides depending on rain at times. An archipelago has the added advantage of having water around islands and, therefore, sufficient evaporated moisture that is blown inland by the sea breezes during the day. At night, the cool wind blows down from the hills and condenses the moisture over the land as dew or rain. Many of us know this! Or do we? Should it only be the scientists, engineers, weather reporters and teachers who have any stake on this know-how?  

Island Engineering now puts a stake on this small, simple knowledge to find ways to understand more closely, to adapt accordingly or to innovate on the process for an island’s benefits. And it follows, for its dwellers’ benefits. Cloud-seeding has been one of the steps taken to address drought problems in these islands. Is it the only recourse? Are we already doing some things that hinder, prevent or enhance Nature’s ways in this aspect? What other undiscovered truths or unremembered memories have we missed so far?

Our journey proceeds as we find more exciting, potential vistas in our path.

Primordial History Review

We take an interesting detour in our journey to primordial and pre-moral history, when everything was literally GOOD, including humans and animals.

The beginning. Garden of Eden.     

The Bible states that before there were humans to take care of the Garden of Eden, the place was sustained by a mist that “went up” and “watered” the plants. At that time, it had not rained on the Earth. Clearly, we can see this primeval condition as quite different from what we have today, or what the ancient people after the Flood saw then. For later on, King Solomon would accurately describe the Water Cycle Process when he said, “To the place from which the rivers come, there they return again.” (Eccl. 1:7)

The first time it did rain was when the Great Flood of Noah came. We all know the story, although some take it with a barrel of salt. But let us just take the prophet’s testimony at face-value and consider the effects of what he wrote; for beyond the simplistic tale and the naïve notions of many people, great truths are indeed hidden that provide a more plausible, if not the only sensible explanation for the geologic history and realities of our planet.

When the Earth began, its Creator enclosed it or submerged the whole globe within a double water-sphere. That is, the whole planet was flooded, while another water sphere or bubble lay beyond a “firmament” – what many assume as the sky or atmosphere – that may have been liquid as well, although some believe it was solid (“firm”) while some believe it was vapor. We assume the planet was generally-flat all over the globe or, perhaps, only had low hills that did not break through the layer of covering water then, because the Hebrew word used means hills, not mountains.

What may have happened next presents a process that not many have heard: The young Earth suddenly expanded due to the intense pressure contained in its depths, since its density then in the beginning was much greater than it is today. What triggered the sudden expansion is unclear, although we can consider a couple: a large meteor hitting the globe and cracking it to such depths that pressures were released – possibly explaining the presence of the Pacific and Atlantic Trenches, where magma today constantly flows out from the abyss, breaking the planet’s crust or surface further apart according to the classic Plate Tectonics Theory. Other trenches exist all over the planet surface. Others claim that powerful electromagnetic forces from the Sun caused the interiors of the Earth to resonate electromagnetically and cause the cataclysmic conditions to produce the expansion.

A New Geologic Paradigm

So, here now, we present a “new” theory (only about 200 years but has a growing number of adherents) in contrast to the one popularly accepted by geologists, scientists, academicians and ordinary folks. The Expanding Earth Theory presents plausible geologic and scientific facts that better explain how the continents came about. Let us look at it for a while.

Taking up from our review of primeval history, the globe remained flooded until an initial expansion brought out the land, apparently what many label as Pangaea – “Then God said, ‘Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear‘; and it was so.” (Gen. 1:9) The water broke apart as a gigantic continent and its low hills rose out of the flood. Logic tells us that the flood waters would have no way of “receding” into the Earth that is precisely expanding and giving off pressure. More in point, the gigantic twin-cracks that eventually formed the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean Basins may have provided the space for containing all the floodwaters, along with giant lakes within Pangaea, serving as precursors of later oceans when the second major expansion would come.

In essence then, the continental ridges served as the first major river system that fed the whole Pangean continent, along with small and minor river systems that may have fed the giant “twin-rivers” formed by the Pacific and Atlantic trenches. Or, we can surmise that they were effectively not rivers but lakes or water reservoirs shaped like rivers and were, in reality, strips of oceans. They could have been super-heated reservoirs that facilitated the evaporation of water and the formation of “mists” to water the whole land. That is, a quicker Water Cycle could have existed back then. It could have been the main reason why the whole globe had a sub-tropical climate initially, as attested to by remains of animals and vegetation in the permafrost in the Arctic and Antarctic regions, as documented by Velikovsky in his books.

It is quite telling that our Creator would actually say “Let the land appear” and not “lands” for it would have meant that right in the beginning the continents already existed. Yet, even classical geologists admit the validity of a one-continent world then. At least, we can all agree on that one vital point. But the following scenarios (in PART 3) will separate the men from the boys.

Watch this video before we discuss how Island Engineering will make sense within a new geological paradigm, which was the actual ancient paradigm we have missed.

(Video above courtesy of www.YouTube.com.)