An Emirati entrepreneur and inventor has been working on an ambitious project that involves towing a giant iceberg all the way from Antarctica to the Arabian Gulf in order to provide fresh drinking water for the UAE.
Because of its arid climate, the United Arab Emirates doesn't have too many options when it comes to water sources. In fact , the Arab country relies heavily on desalinated water, which is not only expensive to obtain but very harmful to the environment. But businessman Abdulla Alshehi thinks he may have found a much better, albeit unconventional alternative. For the last six years he has been working on a plan to tow a 2km x 500m iceberg from Antarctica and use modern technology to tow it 5,500 miles to the Arabian Gulf. The floating block of ice would not only provide drinking water for millions of people, but also determine positive weather changes in the region.
"It will be cheaper to bring in these icebergs and utilize them for freshwater rather than utilizing the desalination water," Alshehi told Euronews. "Because desalination plants require a huge amount of capital investments."
As crazy as it may seem, the idea of towing an iceberg from Antarctica to the Middle East dates back to 1975, when French scientists proposed it as a solution for Saudi Arabia's drinking water shortage. However, the plan failed two years later, due to technological difficulties. This is the 21st century, though, and Abdulla Alshehi is confident that it can be done with the help of modern technology.
The Emirati businessman wants to take a giant iceberg from Heard Island, near the South Pole, and tow it for thousands of miles using a metal belt designed to prevent it from falling apart during the long journey. He still expects it to lose about 30 percent of its mass during the 10 months it would take to transport the iceberg to the Arabian Gulf, but that would still leave more than enough water to be harvested. Keeping the iceberg from rapidly melting in the warm water is another big challenge, but Alshehi thinks it can be overcome.
"We will start the harvesting process immediately and we expect it will take us two to three months," he said. "The iceberg is expected to reach during the winter season here in the United Arab Emirates. In addition, there are other facts such as the depth of this iceberg - they are as deep as 300 meters in the sea - and the deeper you go the cooler the water is."
Apart from providing enough fresh water for millions of people in the UAE for up to five years, the iceberg is expected to also bring some much needed rain in the region as well which would greatly benefit agriculture in the region. In addition, it could boost tourism, with visitors going on "iceberg outings".
"It's expected that the presence of these icebergs may cause a weather pattern change, because they are cold bodies they will attract the clouds which are moving on the Arabian sea to its center," Abdulla Alshehi said. "Once brought into the center, we expect it will attract more rain to the region."
A trial run will be conducted later this year, with a smaller iceberg being towed for a shorter distance using a tug boat. If that works out well, preparations will be made to have a giant iceberg moved to the UAE's Fujairah coast.