Will Antarctic icebergs solve fresh water crisis in UAE?

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Abu Dhabi - The UAE Iceberg Project is an economically, technically and commercially feasible idea now.

By Anjana Sankar

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Published: Mon 2 Jul 2018, 10:46 PM

Last updated: Tue 4 Oct 2022, 3:02 PM

Colossal icebergs floating off the coast of UAE is no more an insane stretch of imagination. By 2020, icebergs from Antarctica are going to be the UAE's biggest tourist attraction, according to The National Advisor Bureau Limited, an Abu Dhabi-based private company.

In a world-first, the company, on Sunday announced the launch of a trailblazing project to tow icebergs from Antarctica to Fujairah in the eastern coast of the UAE at an estimated cost of more than $50 million.

"The UAE Iceberg Project is an economically, technically and commercially feasible idea now. Once completed in 2020, this will mean an end to water scarcity in the region and UAE will become one of the biggest exporters of fresh water in the world," Abdulla Mohammed Sulaiman Al Shehi, managing director of the company, told Khaleej Times.

The company had made international headlines when it first announced the project in May 2017. But it was soon kept under wraps after the UAE government denied any involvement in the project.

"We were doing the feasibility study since last five years. Now we have developed a unique technology to tow the icebergs with minimum melting during transportation. We are good to go." said Al Shehi.

While the details of the technology will be announced later this year, Al Shehi said high-capacity tow-boats that can tow icebergs weighing up to 100 million tonnes or more will be used in the feat.

"The first step is to locate and select the icebergs using satellite imaging. The sea currents northwards will be the main force that will move the colossal icebergs. Tow boats will assist and guide the iceberg in their movement," added Al Shehi who is also the author of Filling the Empty Quarter, a book that offers out of the box ideas to harvest fresh water.

According to him, it will take anything up to nine months to complete the iceberg haul from Antarctica to Fujairah.

"The cost and time will vary hugely depending on the size and shape of the Iceberg. We are looking at a cost that will start at $50 million and can even go up to $120 million. It is not predictable now," said Al Shehi, adding that the project is completely funded by private parties.

Once the iceberg is offshore, Al Shehi said the company will start harvesting fresh water for consumers. Blocks of ice will be chipped off from the surface, crushed into water and then stored in large tanks.

The Antarctic ice sheet is the single largest block of ice on Earth, containing over 60 per cent of the world's fresh seawater.

"Global warming is causing the ice to melt causing the wastage of millions of gallons of water. This is when 1.2 billion people around the world are living without access to clean water. As per UN estimates, by 2030, more than 50 per cent of the world's population could be facing water shortage. The iceberg project aims to support the response to water calamities such as drought worldwide, and support other water projects aimed to promote the humanitarian work," said Al Shehi.

The trial phase

The first phase of the project is set to begin by the second half of 2019. "In the trial phase, we will tow an iceberg towards the coast of Perth in Australia or Cape Town in South Africa. We will study the wave and heat effect, the suitable weather conditions and also learn about charting the right route for towing," said Al Shehi.

Regarding the international laws and permissions required to implement the project, the official said: "The High Sea Code states that icebergs are a water resource and can be subjected to acquisition by private parties and moved to any part of the world."

He said governmental authorisation was also not required to bring the iceberg to the UAE as it will be resting in international waters off the country's coast. "What is also important is that we are not targeting icebergs in Antarctica. We will be towing icebergs that broke off and are floating in the high seas some 3,000 miles away from Antarctica."

Having icebergs floating off the UAE's coast is not without its climatic benefits for the UAE, that records less than four inches of rain per year. "The icebergs would attract the clouds over the Arabian Sea to the centre of the icebergs, thus creating a vortex that will cause rainfalls. It will also assist in providing fresh water to the region, making the UAE a hub for exporting water to the world. Moreover, we will be the first desert country to offer glacial tourism and people will not have to travel to Antarctica to see icebergs anymore."


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