A French engineer has come up with an unusual solution for drought: Towing icebergs down from polar regions to solve chronic water shortages in the Horn of Africa, where more than 12 million people are currently living without clean water.
George Mougin, 86, first proposed the idea as an engineering graduate in the early 1970s. Together with Saudi prince Muhammad al-Faisal and polar explorer Paul-Emile Victor, Mougin formed the company Iceberg Transportation International and undertook research into whether it was possible to unlock the fresh water contained in icebergs. He was repeatedly told, however, that the project was too difficult and expensive.
"They are floating reservoirs." said Mougin.
But in 2009, someone took him seriously: French software company Dassault Systems approached Mougin with a proposal to test out his theory using computer simulation technology. The initial simulation showed a 7 million-tonne iceberg being tugged from Newfoundland to the Canary Islands. In the simulation, the iceberg is lassoed and geothermal material used to cover the submerged part of the iceberg to prevent it from melting. Then, a tug boat drags the iceberg at the speed of one knot, arriving at its destination after 141 days.
Nearly 70 percent of the world’s fresh water is contained in the polar ice caps and in Greenland alone, 40,000 icebergs break away and melt into the Atlantic every year. One iceberg can weigh up to 30 million tonnes and provide half a million people with water for a year. But is this really a viable solution?
Plan holds water. “Initial simulations suggested the project was unworkable after the tugboat became trapped in an eddy for a month,” reported The Daily Mail. “But when the departure date was switched from May to June, the tugboat was able to complete its voyage in 141 days at a cost of £6million.” This success has left Mougin hopeful that “the latest evidence will enable him to raise £2 million to fund a trial run next year, towing a smaller iceberg from the Antarctic to Australia.”
Too great a price to pay? Fox News claimed that “the cost of the enterprise remains prohibitive. To tow the iceberg from Newfoundland to the Canary Islands would cost an estimated £6 million.” Robin Henry, writing in The Australian concurred that ”high costs involved in the project have previously scared off investors,” adding, “It is not the only ambitious scheme for combating drought – other suggestions include manufacturing rainfall through cloud seeding and building mass desalination plants to purify seawater.”