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Last updated on April 23, 2014 at 1:22 EDT

Could A 40-Year-Old Iceberg Towing Plan End Droughts?

August 8, 2011

A plan to tow massive icebergs from the polar ice caps to countries suffering from severe drought conditions, first suggested and dismissed four decades ago, could actually be a feasible way to bring water to those who need it most, according to various media reports.

French entrepreneur and environmentalist Georges Mougin, now 86, first came up with the suggestion 40 years ago, according to NewsCore reports.

“Under the plan, engineers would encircle an iceberg with a harness that contains a skirt made from an insulating textile. The skirt unfolds underwater and covers the iceberg to stop it from melting,” the news agency reported. “With the help of ocean currents, the iceberg is then towed to drought-stricken lands.”

Mougin formed a company called Iceberg Transport International in 1976, and even secured funding from Saudi Prince Mohammed al Faisal, but was forced to put the project on hold after being told time and again that the project was too costly and would be too difficult to complete successfully.

Two years ago, however, Mougin was approached by Dassault Systemes, a software firm operating out of France, who provided him with a team of engineers and the means to create a computer system that would test his theory that the iceberg could successfully be transported south without melting.

According to the London Daily Mail, the initial simulation, which attempted to prove that a seven ton iceberg could be transported from Newfoundland to the Canary Islands, suggested that the tugboat pulling the iceberg would be trapped in an eddy for about a month.

However, once the departure date was adjusted from May to June, the voyage could be successfully completed in 141 days, or slightly less than five months, at a total cost of $9.8 million.

In an October 1977 article describing early efforts to implement Mougin’s proposal, Time magazine reported that the goal was “to find a 100 million-ton iceberg off Antarctica, wrap it in sailcloth and plastic to slow its melting, and then use powerful tugboats to tow it to the Arabian Peninsula, where it would supply enormous quantities of drinking water.”

“The journey would take about eight months and the project would cost around $100 million, according to estimates,” the magazine’s report added. “But it very well might be worth it. Even if the mile-long iceberg lost as much as 20% of its mass en route, it could be melted down and its water made available at a cost of 500 to 600 a cubic meter (about 35 cu. ft.), well under the 80-cents it now costs to desalinate a cubic meter of water.”

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