Daily Mail has run a story on ''Warnings of severe water shortages in the Middle East after satellites show freshwater reserves are dwindling. ''
'Water from Icebergs' will one day be a reality for middle East. In 1972-3 that was my first letter to the 'Editor of Dawn.' A long-standing proposal has been to tow icebergs from Antarctica to supply freshwater. The new icebergs that form every year around Antarctica hold enough water to meet the needs of every person on Earth for several months.
Polar caps contain nearly 70% of all fresh water. Of the world's 104 million cubic kilometres of water, 97 percent is salty. An astounding 70 percent of the remaining fresh water is hidden deep underground in aquifers or frozen in glaciers or ice caps. The bottom line is that all life on earth depends on less than 1 percent of the total water volume. Unfortunately, the fresh water available to us is not evenly distributed throughout the world. Often, it is unavailable where it is needed, resulting in large arid regions. Long-standing proposals to tow icebergs to lower latitudes where their valuable water can be harvested. No successful attempts have so far been made. GPRS technology now can help to locate a tow-able big one. A big, stable iceberg using satellites, can be attached tugboats and drag the two problems that to solve to make it work are melting and transportation. There are currently serious studies to access the feasibility of towing an iceberg into water starved regions of the world. A massive iceberg could contain billions of gallons of fresh water. Due to the density variation between salt water and ice, a typical iceberg reveals only about one ninth of its volume above the water surface.
There is one area of the world that has both the economic resources and economic rational to transfer water by towing icebergs, presently all Middle Eastern oil rich economies use extensive desalination of the sea water to make up for the fresh water shortages, it is quite an expensive undertaking. Though in Ashkelon, Israel, they just opened up a new desalination plant. It set two world records. First, at 320,000 cubic meters of water per day, it's the world's biggest. Secondly, at only 53 cents per cubic meter, it's also the world's cheapest. That's about 1/5 penny per gallon. This particular plant has its own 80 MW gas power plant. In this plant instead of boiling the water, that uses a lot of energy, a series of semi-permeable membranes are used. This is an economical way to create fresh water without creating natural nimbleness.
Still in comparison an average a good-sized iceberg might measure 3,000 x 1,500 x 600 feet. An iceberg that size contains somewhere around 20 billion gallons of fresh water. If 1 million people each use 10 gallons of water a day, then 20 billion gallons of water ( it is equal to 40 m US $ of fresh water based on 1/5 penny per gallon for the most economical desalination plant. This amount of would take care of the water needs of 1 million people for more than five years. For 10 million people, it would last 200 days. It really is a lot of water. To drag 'polar ice caps' looks quite an attractive undertaking for the Middle East. To tow icebergs to Saudi Arabia will be an enormous task but may be worth studying carefully. If not Saudi, even dragging a huge iceberg to the Saharan face on the Atlantic and making a huge fresh water lake in Saharan desert can be a great idea. Will we humans be playing God or play havoc with ecology?
In 1978 the idea of towing icebergs to the U.S. to provide freshwater was endorsed by the California State Senate. The plan was to have these 'iceberg trains' driven by electric propellers and powered by a floating nuclear plant (Redmond, 1993). A similar procedure had already been carried out in southern Chilean ports during the early 1900's. (Charlier, 1991). However, the extremely expensive costs, and 80% loss of volume during the towing route cast a shadow over the concept. In the late 1950's, a oceanographer named John Isaacs suggested the icebergs be brought into Los Angeles. The plan was never carried out. However, for almost the last 30 years, Terry Spragg has been working on the iceberg project. In 1991 he had planned a test run but was running into complications with funding and a lack of workers (Wohleber, 1991).
All this needs to be further studied. Arctic icebergs roam into the North Atlantic on their own, ( like the one that hit and sank The Titanic) their movement can be easily steered into currents that flow south along Europe. A large iceberg may stuck in the shallow warm water entrance to the Mediterranean, therefore the route has to be circuitous for the final part of the trip. All these icebergs probably would need to be clothed in a wrapper made from extremely strong Kevlar, to hold in the melted water so that you don't lose any water along the way. "Tip of the iceberg" and its draft as an iceberg is submerged under water hundreds of feet it will be hard to get it anywhere near land. It will have to melt in its fabric wrapper well offshore, and then the water can be pumped in.
Fresh water tankers continuing 200m gallons of fresh water tapped form the melting icebergs or shavings can be also feasible. Icebergs from Antarctic are larger and more stable. And the route from Antarctica to Saudi Arabia through the Indian Ocean is open and deep. The waters between Antarctica and Southern Saudi Arabia is rough, the iceberg would have to be towed facing far stronger currents, will the Kevlar hold? One day mankind is going to capture asteroids, hopefully we are going to convert them to space ships, we should start with icebergs; turning them into self propelling 'delayed melting mountains of fresh water sources.' Are there any takers. Not yet, but pretty soon may be.