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Could icebergs offer a solution for Cape Town?

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Although towing an iceberg from Antarctica to South Africa to relieve drought-plagued Cape Town sounds far-fetched, or like the plot of a summer blockbuster movie, it’s a solution that experts in South Africa are seriously considering.

Marine salvage expert, Nick Sloane, who in 2014 successfully refloated the capsized Italian passenger ship Costa Concordia, has developed a proposal that involves wrapping icebergs in protective material and transporting them, via tanker and ocean current, 2,000 kilometers south to Cape Town where they would be melted to provide drinking water for residents.

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According to Sloane, a single iceberg “could produce about 150 million liters per day for about a year,” around 30 percent of the city’s needs. He specifies that the ideal iceberg dimensions would be about a kilometer long, 500 meters wide, and 250 meters deep with a flat surface.

But towing an iceberg would be costly. Current estimates are upwards of $100 million. Therefore, South African officials are currently monitoring rainfall to see if the conveyance procedure is entirely necessary. They plan on reaching a decision in August.

“We’ve got private investors standing by on the wings to fund it,” Sloane told Quartz. Under that arrangement, the salvage expert and his partners would only charge a delivery fee if the operation is successful.

The idea of towing an iceberg to provide fresh water is nothing new. As The Atlantic outlines here, for nearly 200 years forward-thinking individuals have suggested iceberg transport to arid regions such as the United Arab Emirates, India, and California. But despite all the proposals and planning, there has yet to be a successful effort to capture and tow and iceberg for fresh water.

Towing icebergs is a regular practice for oil companies operating offshore rigs in northern waters. In fact, in order to protect their assets, many hire ice management consultants to keep icebergs clear of valuable equipment. These contractors have developed techniques for capturing the floating ice using 8-inch polypropylene towropes to encircle the iceberg and a powerful vessel to shift the iceberg’s path. 

What are your thoughts? With much of the world’s fresh water locked away in Arctic icebergs, is it practical to bring colossal chunks of ice down to latitudes where people desperately need new sources of drinking water?  Is iceberg towing a preposterous or possible solution? WE_bug_web

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  1. …surely you mean 2000kms NORTH to Cape Town – the iceberg would come from the Antarctic in the South African winter.

      1. From the link you provided Laura: An improbable idea is being floated to solve Cape Town’s water crisis: towing an iceberg from Antarctica over 2,000 kilometers to the South African city. Shortest distance between two points.

  2. Unfortunately, towing icebergs to South Africa or anyplace on the planet will only be the extreme exercise in futility! The definitive problem is the existence of the ignorant, arrogant “human creature” and his innate, self destructive (there is never enough) mind-set THAT will always use-up/ destroy all of his resources and then he will dig and claw for more. “ALL he want is a little More than he Will Ever HAVE” “WHAT WILL HE DO WHEN ALL OF THE ICE HAS MELTED” ??

    1. this was the perfect article for venting wasn’t it? a rant about the ignorance of humans and while i agree with you there was no suggestions about how to change the situation, unless it was the simplistic implied one of stop wasteful consumption. easier said than done with billions of humans on the planet with expectations of dramatic increases in the future. conservation may help for awhile but it will not be a permanent solution. a perfect first step would be to stop fulfilling gods order to multiply and replenish the earth. all nations need to follow china’s example and limit offspring to one or two per couple. a second step, one that would require sacrifices on all sides, would be the total destruction of the capitalistic, greed based system that most people have to live under now. the 3% will not give up this kind of wealth and power easily, but so be it, make it as hard and as difficult as the task requires. this system is the reason most people are dying today either directly or indirectly, and the reason for most shortages. if the first humans acted this way we wouldn’t be here now.

  3. Dear Miss Sanchez, I feel conflicted about the so called solution for water shortage in Cape Town: on one side I feel compassion and recognize that if they ran out of other solutions they should get the iceberg that would melt anyway. On the other hand I feel that we increase the harm on the North Pole even more, we impact the natural ocean current hence the habitat of the life in our oceans. It feels like we tap in the last resort instead of looking on other engineered solutions to generate water and reduce water consumption. There are many new ideas on how to conserve water in households. Have they been implemented? $100 mil would pay 200,000 “waterloop shower” installation that reduces the water use by 80%. I think we should exhaust first all the technical solutions to save and generate water locally before we look into tapping in such important natural resources and toy with the earth systems equilibrium.

    1. Tunde, thank you for sharing your thoughtful insights here. I too feel conflicted about this solution, which is why I chose to discuss the issue. I agree that there are other, more practical solutions that should be put into place prior to an effort of this scope and potentially eco-disruptive nature.

  4. I do like the creative, outside the box idea of towing an iceberg to replenish water to a water-deprived state or nation but I don’t think this is the way to do it. Us as engineers need to think of other ideas that are currently being used and have a proven track record not towing an iceberg thousands of miles. Let’s stick to proven technologies like sewage to water, water conservation and reuse, deep good technology, and others. I think the 100 million can be better spent in other ways that will have a more lasting effect, rather than a 1-year solution.

  5. Good news! Day Zero in Cape Town (the day the public water is turned off) has apparently been put off for 2 years. It has started to rain and the reservoirs are now at 53% of their capacity. In addition, over $100 million dollars has been spent on water supply augmentation (wells, temporary desalination plants and reuse). Conservation has also been a major focus. Permanent desalination plants are also proposed but take a couple of years to build.

    A key to success is convincing the population of the seriousness of water conservation as well as developing alternate sources of water. Towing an iceberg seems to be an expensive, panic induced and very temporary solution. I vote “no”.

  6. An interesting idea. Geography is a little mixed up but I think we getting the idea.
    “An improbable idea is being floated to solve Cape Town’s water crisis: towing an iceberg from Antarctica over 2,000 kilometers to the South African city.”

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