22 May 2017
Plans to start towing an iceberg from Antarctica to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) will begin in 2019 and will take about 12 months to complete, an executive from the UAE Icebergs Project has said.
National Advisor Bureau Limited, the Abu Dhabi-based consultancy behind the project, announced plans this month to tow icebergs from Heard Island, located about 1,000 kilometres off the coast of mainland Antarctica, to the coast of Fujairah, one of the seven emirates making up the UAE.
Research by the World Resources Institute claimed that the UAE ranks amongst the top 10 countries with the highest per capita water consumption in the world, but by 2040 it will be among the most “water stressed” countries on the planet.
As a result, the iceberg project, which is based on research by French scientist Georges Mougin, intended to help solve the country’s freshwater challenges.
“The operation (to start towing) will start by Q2 2019 and it will take one year,” Abdulla Mohammad Suleiman Al Shehhi, managing director and principal consultant of National Advisor Bureau Limited, told Thomson Reuters Projects during a phone interview this month.
In addition to bringing the iceberg to the emirate, the project involves building a water processing port in the emirate, Shehhi said.
“The technical feasibility study and commercial part is already done so we are in the process of getting approvals for the whole operation,” he said.
“It (a water processing port) will be built. The water is already fresh, it doesn’t need much treatment.”
Shehi did not provide further details on the construction timeline for the port but said that “all the plans will synchronise together” in Q2 2019.
The average iceberg can weigh 100 million tons and towing the iceberg the 9,2000km distance is more a process of “guiding” the glacier across waters, he said.
Ships would steer the ice through the ocean current, Shehi explained. The mass would remain underwater and be wrapped with special insulation materials during the towing so it does not melt.
“90 percent of the iceberg is submerged into the sea limiting its contact with the sun rays,” he said. “As per our simulation the iceberg will lose up to 30 percent of it is mass, and the remaining (is) still (a) huge quantity.”
An iceberg contains around 20 billion gallons of fresh water, he said.
“As per the simulation done it will take up to one year to tow the iceberg from near Heard Island up to the shores of UAE,” he added, and it will take about “60 to 90 days” for the iceberg to melt.
“We will be harvesting the water from it using special machinery. We are expecting if the operation of the first one goes well, we will bring another one.”
Shehi declined to comment on how much the project would cost or how it would be financed, but insisted that the figures were realistic.
“Considering the water harvesting and considering the tourism revenue from it, we believe it is a feasible project from a commercial point of view,” he said.
The idea of bringing ice as a water resource is not new but has yet to be accomplished. A proposal in the 1970s to tow an iceberg to Saudi Arabia was abandoned due to the cost and technical challenges.
“The (Saudi) project was put on hold due to technical issues, especially the transportation,” Shehi said. “But now science has advanced well and many transportation means can happen.”
Icebergs are expected to cause a tremendous increase in the amount of water vapour in the atmosphere that could cause significant climate change in the region. However, Shehi did not provide numbers on how much the temperature is expected to drop in the UAE.
“Cold air gushing out from an iceberg close to the shores of the Arabian Sea would cause a trough and rainstorms across the Arabian Gulf and the southern region of the Arabian Peninsula all year round,” he said.
When icebergs make contact with humid climate, moist air is forced to rise, he added. “When enough water vapour is collected in the clouds, they become heavy and fall as rain.”
Antarctica holds 60 percent of the world’s freshwater, according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Icebergs break off the ice shelf, shedding nearly 1.3 trillion kilograms of ice per year.
© Zawya Projects News 2017