Icebergs Could be Towed to Areas Suffering Drought

Photo: natalielucier / cc

As temperatures rise throughout the world due to global warming, the face of our planet is changing. At the poles, huge chunks of ice have been observed breaking off, left to drift in slow decay across the ocean. Meanwhile, in drought-riddled regions of Africa, the earth cracks under the arid weight of drought - its people perishing under cloudless skies. But while the two troubling realities owe their fate to the same phenomenon, within one just might offer relief to the other. According to computer simulations, towing the freshwater held in icebergs to drought-riddled Africa is possible - but are we willing to pay the price?
It's not often that two troubling, yet unrelated news stories could combine to provide humanitarian relief - but a recent study outlined by PhysOrg hints at a remarkable potential. According to the French software firm Dassault Systemes, icebergs breaking off from the poles could conceivably be towed to regions in Africa stricken by drought, offering clean, freshwater to hundreds of thousands of people in need of relief.

Such an undertaking would, of course, be no easy or inexpensive task, but according to researchers, it could be done. From PsychOrg:

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.

Towing giant iceberg capable of bringing water to drought areas wouldn't come cheap, however. PhysOrg estimates the cost at around $10 million to move blocks of ice to equatorial regians -- but there would be no shortage of potential sources.

Scientists estimate that some 40,000 icebergs break away from the polar ice caps each year, though only a fraction of them would be large enough to be worth the time and expense of dragging them to a place experiencing a drought, such as the devastating one currently going on in the Horn of Africa.

It is certainly an odd ultimatum to propose: spending millions to move hunk of broken glacial ice to replenish a distant region in severe drought in order to save thousands of lives -- but in light of the human tragedy underway in Africa, where so many lives have already been lost in the worst drought in over sixty years, such efforts beg to be realized.

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More on Icebergs
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Could a Tugboat Pulling an Iceberg Solve the World's Water Problems
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Tags: Drought | Global Climate Change