3 minute read
9 Jul 2019
1:26 pm

Cape Town could soon see an iceberg on the horizon


The plan to tow an iceberg from Antarctica to the Arabian Gulf has been in the making for six years, says UAE businessman Abdulla Alshehi.

The massive iceberg will be transported using a metal ‘belt’ that will keep it intact. Image: iStock

An ambitious United Arab Emirates (UAE) businessman, Abdulla Alshehi, has made his wish to tow an iceberg from Antarctica to the Arabian Gulf public. And this has raised many eyebrows.

In an interview with Euronews, Alshehi explained that as a test run, he would like to tow the iceberg, using a tug boat, to either Cape Town or Perth, Australia, to pilot using the berg for water harvesting.

This would reportedly cost between $60 to 80 million, with the mission to the UAE expected to cost an average of $100 to 150 million, he said.

Australia, South Africa, and the UAE are among some of the driest countries in the world and regularly battle debilitating droughts. Alshehi’s vision is to eradicate this by harvesting water from an iceberg, which he said would provide drinking water for up to one million people in the UAE for five years.

ALSO READ: Global warming has already raised the risk of more severe droughts in Cape Town

Although the budget is significant, Alshehi argues that using desalinated water would still be more expensive, due to the number of capital investments required. Harvesting the iceberg also has environmental benefits, Alshehi said, although this fact is disputed by many in the science community.

One study, in particular, published by The Conversation and conducted by the University of New South Wales’ Graeme Clark and Emma Johnston and conducted over six years, looked at marine life before, during and after the Sydney Desalination Plant was operating.

Expecting to find that high salt levels would impact sea life, ecological changes were actually confined to 100m of the discharge point and reduced shortly after the plant was turned off. In addition, Clark and Johnston said that changes were likely due to strong currents created by the plant’s outfall jets, rather than high salinity.

However, if successful, Alshehi’s iceberg-towing endeavour would significantly ease Cape Town’s drought woes, with Day Zero still fresh in the minds of many.

And, with climate change rapidly affecting temperatures and therefore weather patterns, droughts are bound to become more commonplace around the world.

Alshehi postulates that the presence of an iceberg in UAE waters could actually attract clouds moving on the Arabian Sea to its centre, which could, in turn, result in more regular rainfall in the region.

He also suggests that tourism could be spurred on by the berg, conveniently dubbed “glacial tourism”, in the Arabian Gulf.

But how will the iceberg be prevented from melting?

Considering the Arabian Gulf’s average temperature sits at 26 degrees Celsius, Alshehi anticipates that 30% of the iceberg will melt before it reaches Arabia. Harvesting the iceberg will, therefore, have to happen very quickly, and transportation must be done in the winter.

The massive iceberg will be transported using a metal “belt” that will keep it intact.

Alshehi said that a similar project was suggested by French scientists for Saudi Arabia in 1975, but this failed due to technical limitations. Saudi Prince Mohamed Al-Faisal also wanted an iceberg towed to Saudi Arabia in the 1970s. And, BBC reports that in 2010s, proposals were submitted to the European Union (EU) suggesting that a berg be towed to the Canary Islands.

These are just some examples of how ambitious entrepreneurs, businessmen and scientists have been toying with the idea of dragging a massive iceberg from the Antarctic to somewhere else in the world, thousands of kilometres away, at the very least to provide fresh drinking water to millions.

“… We believe with the help of current technology we will overcome it,” he told Euronews.

For more news your way, download The Citizen’s app for iOS and Android.