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Iceberg Towing: Bringing 12,000 Year Old Freshwater From the Arctic to Saudi Arabia

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HVculture


By HVculture on June 3, 2011


You know how one of the most annoying things about newer refrigerators is how quickly the ice comes out of the chute? You’re not ready and ice cubes just fall on the floor, unused and unable to be recovered. Well one French engineer is bothered by the same thing, but on a much larger scale.

The scale of icebergs.

Georges Mougin is an engineer who believes it possible to use the freshwater of icebergs instead of just watching chunks of pristine drinking water melt away into the salty ocean. Water that has been sitting in these floating glaciers for over 12,000 years could be the most pure freshwater people would have access to.

In the 1970′s, prince Mohammad al-Faisal, a nephew of the Saudi king, hired Mougin along with other engineers on a project called “Iceberg Transport International”. According to Fast Company,

“Faisal planned on wrapping a 100-million-ton iceberg in sailcloth and plastic and tugging it from the North Pole to the Red Sea, though the cost was estimated at an exorbitant $100 million. For a swank conference on “iceberg utilization,” he even managed to ship, via helicopter, plane, and truck, a two-ton “mini-berg” from Alaska to Iowa, where the giant block of ice was chipped apart to chill delegates’ drinks.”

A Time report from 1977 had Faisal claiming that within three years he would have an iceberg in Arabia. Thanks to skyrocketing costs and feasibility issues, the iceberg stayed put in its glacial home. The dream of providing freshwater to over a billion people faded into the background. But after all of this time, Mougin has not given up on his quest to wrangle himself an iceberg. His method doesn’t involve giant cranes or airplanes, just a tugboat and a “skirt” wrapped around the icy cargo.

Which is where Dassault Systèmes comes in. Dassault is a French design firm that focuses on complicated 3-D simulations, including the simulation of pulling a large chunk of ice across an ocean. They factored in such elements as boat fuel, iceberg melt time, ocean currents, ocean swell and time of year. Here’s how to catch an iceberg in three easy steps:

1. Find a nice table shaped iceberg in the middle of iceberg hunting season- it’s much easier to grab when there aren’t so many pointy edges. Then use a tugboat to deploy a geotextile belt around the iceberg to lasso it.

2. Using the belt lassoed around the iceberg, extend a “skirt” downwards into the ocean about 20 feet. This keeps the cold air pressed against the sides of the ice, slowing down the melting process.

3. Tug. By using satellite data about ocean currents, Dassault calculated that it was theoretically possible for just one tugboat to tow the entire iceberg by itself.

Once all data was in, numbers crunched, and fingers crossed, Dassault ran the simulation. They found that if the iceberg was captured in a season ideal for “iceberg steering” then it was possible for the plan to work. Mougin has recently started his own company for the purpose of towing an iceberg successfully in the real world. His plan is for a trial run by 2012 or 2013 to tow at least a mini-iceberg.

Keep an eye out for Georges Mougin, first step is towing giant icebergs across the ocean, next step is saving ice cubes from falling on your kitchen floor.

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