Could Icebergs be Towed to Areas Suffering Drought?

Throughout the world, many areas are facing severe droughts. It is a growing problem that will most likely get worse over the next century. One of the worst hit areas at the present moment is in the Horn of Africa. Drinkable water is becoming harder to come by there, as residents face a severe drought with little to no hope in sight.

There is one potential solution floating around that I, myself, am a little bewildered by. The concept is basically to tow a huge iceberg from the North Atlantic to areas stricken with drought, like this one in the Horn of Africa.

The idea originated back in the 1970’s, thought up by a man named Georges Mougin, an engineer. He suggested that icebergs floating around in the North Atlantic could be tethered and dragged south to places that were experiencing a severe drought.

Although, at the time, most experts scoffed at his theory, he did receive some financial backing from a Saudi Prince who found his idea interesting. But, after awhile, Mougin had to put the whole scheme on the shelf, due to lack of support.

After about 40 years of sitting on a shelf, his theory was dusted off and picked up by a French software firm, Dassault Systems, which thought that maybe Mougin was on to something after all. Dassault Systems contacted him to suggest modeling the whole idea on a computer.

After applying 15 engineers to the problem, the team concluded that towing an iceberg from the waters around Newfoundland to the Canary Islands off the northwest coast of Africa, could be done, and would take under five months, though it would cost nearly ten million dollars.

In the simulation, as in a real world attempt, the selected iceberg would first be fitted with an insulating skirt to stave off melting; it would then be connected to a tugboat (and a kite sail) that would travel at about one knot (assuming assistance from ocean currents). In the simulated test, the iceberg arrived intact having lost only 38 percent of its seven ton mass.

A real world project would of course require hauling a much bigger berg; experts estimate a 30 million ton iceberg could provide fresh water for half a million people for up to a year. There would also be the problem of transporting the water from the berg in the ocean to the drought stricken people.

The extraordinary costs for such a project would, it is assumed, come from the price tag for the skirt, five months of diesel fuel for the tugboat, the man hours involved and then finally, distribution of the fresh water at the destination.

According to scientists who study the polar region, around 40,000 icebergs break off from the polar ice each year. It is so far unreported how many of those would be big enough or actually worth towing.

The new results have reinvigorated Mougin, who is now age 86, with the possible actualization of this lifelong quest of his. With a passion to supply drinkable water to suffering places, he is now trying to raise money for a real-world test drive so that he can see it happen with his own eyes.

While I wish him the best of luck and hope his idea is successful, my question is: could there be a more efficient and practical way to supply water to Africa with 10 million dollars?

h/t: treehugger

Photo Credit: Rita Willaert

2 thoughts on “Could Icebergs be Towed to Areas Suffering Drought?”

  1. Hello,

    Of course you could use the 10million in another way for supplying water.
    Taking global warming into consideration, the drinking water, which an iceberg is made of, would be useful and not gone after melting the salty oceans and be lost forever.
    quite evident…

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