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The UAE plan to tow an iceberg from Antarctica for drinking water

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has a project to tow an iceberg more than 5,500 miles from Antarctica in order to provide that arid nation drinking water for about five years.

The National Advisor Bureau, headquartered in Masdar City, Abu-Dhabi, plans to source the massive blocks of ice from Heard Island, around 600 miles (1000 kilometres) off the coast of mainland Antarctica. It will then transport them around 5,500 miles (8,800 km) to Fujairah, one of the seven emirates which make up the UAE. One iceberg could provide enough for one million people over five years, according to the company.

And the scheme could begin as early as the start of 2018.

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

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  • mpthompson

    Those dopes. Doesn’t the UAE know there is no more ice at the poles? I know because Al Gore told me so.

  • Keith

    I suppose the US Government isn’t the only entity than can concoct hair-brained schemes.

  • Cotour

    This is more cost effective than building desalination plants? How about using all of that sun power to evaporate sea water and condense it?

    Sounds “cool”, but there has to be a more practical way to solve this problem. Maybe they should consult Israel and see how they would do it?

  • LocalFluff

    I don’t know about UAE domestic politics, but they seem to have a futuristic guy in charge. If only he’d lift the stone age enslavement and oppression against his own subjects, between his plans for space colonization and Earth terraforming.

  • Andy

    Wasn’t this one of the schemes he backed to loose money in Brewster’s Millions?

  • jburn

    I’m tempted to suggest we just drop a small sized ice laden asteroid on the area, but that would be bad — so I won’t suggest it.

  • Kirk

    Anyone else here recall the “Hard Water” episode from Andy Griffith’s Salvage 1?

  • pzatchok

    Its possible.

    But it would be better if they built several huge dry docks in Africa and ‘docked’ the burgs there.
    Drain the salt water out and harvest the fresh water as it melts.

    They could be running a tanker of fresh water into the UAE every month instead of once a year.


  • mpthompson

    When you think about it, the engineering logistics of trying to lasso and move an iceberg are quite interesting. Are they going after sea ice? If so, is it thick enough to to be useful and tough enough to hold up to stresses of being moved? Also, how pure is ice that is formed in the ocean? Or, is it ice that formed on land and pushed into the ocean by glaciers? The shapes of those icebergs tend to make them very unstable and they often roll on their own. That could make them very tough to move.

    In any case, it should be very fascinating to watch how they actually do it.

  • Tom Billings

    “Or, is it ice that formed on land and pushed into the ocean by glaciers?”

    Heard Island has enough elevation (9,000ft.) to slough glacial Ice from the Big Ben range down to the sea. They will have to pick one that is as stable as they can, and place a fresh water containing sack around it. That way, as they tow it North, the meltwater can be pumped into tankers and sent ahead to the UAE. This should also help with stability and towing drag, since the meltwater container can be designed to increase both in the face of the storms, currents and winds of the Southern Ocean.

    There will be three steps to each transit:

    Build the container around the berg near the island, from modules.

    Tow the berg to the Gulf.

    Dock the berg and its meltwater container sufficiently that storms in the Gulf cannot disturb its pumping equipment.

    Then head back to Heard Island again.

  • C. Cecil

    Frederic Tudor, 1783 – 1864, founder of the Tudor Ice Co. in Massachusetts.
    He made a fortune shipping ice cut from New England lakes and ponds to customers in the Caribbean, Europe, and India.
    There’s always been a demand for large chunks of frozen fresh water for refrigeration and drinking.

  • I’m wondering if this is related to their space ambitions. The ability to direct massive objects is useful. A civilization that can move icebergs may be more willing to tackle asteroids.

  • Joe

    If they can make the pyramids from large cut stone, I’m sure moving a large ice burg is in the realm of possibility, know one knows how the pyramids were built, man had to do it though.

  • Early Bird

    This is more cost effective than building desalination plants? How about using all of that sun power to evaporate sea water and condense it?

    I, for one, would like to see a cost-benefit analysis of the cost-per-gallon of iceberg water vs. that from a desalination plant.

    Sounds “cool”, but there has to be a more practical way to solve this problem.

    The whole affair has a distinct “because we can” feel to it.

    (They don’t call the UAE “Vegas in the desert” for nothing.)

  • Cotour

    Yes, all they have is cash, sun, oil and sand and its all sitting right next to a sea (water), whats the big deal about developing and building the best highest technology water desalination plants / reverse osmosis systems in the world in their country ?

    It does sound like, as is pointed out in the article, that there will be an attraction quality to the entire operation. Just one more thing to bring people where they naturally might not want to really go. After sand, sun, cash, oil and now the over the top architecture, what the hell is the attraction? Dialed down Islam and Lamborginies in every garage ? Their children all drive Lamborginies you know.

    Why aren’t they concentrating on high “technology” like this:
    Why didn’t I think of this !? “Several of them can supply a whole community with clean water” plus, for every one sold in America the company will donate one to a needy community. Its got to be good then.

    It must the new way that the children have been trained to think that is introducing such “progressive” thinking into our world. Just thinking different apparently changes physics. Oh how we have been limiting ourselves.

    PS: Its a friggin desert!

  • Cotour

    Why aren’t they building this?

    In animation world it works great, on an industrial level!

    Back to the real world:

    Like I said, why don’t they go talk to Israel? They appear to now have more water than they need. EAU, go talk to the Jews, forget about the ice bergs, do something real.

  • Edward

    Andy asked: “Wasn’t this one of the schemes he backed to loose money in Brewster’s Millions?

    I do not recall, but if so, it probably made money (that was what happened to his investments).

    This iceberg idea was used in the Larry Niven/Jerry Pournelle book “Oath of Fealty.” In that book, they encased the ice in plastic, at least under the waterline, which allowed them to retain much of the melt that occurred. I’m not sure whether the authors considered the problem that icebergs roll as they melt. This is a fun experiment: watch an ice cube melt in water. It is kind of boring, but the cube rolls a couple of times (I used hot water in order to hurry the process — impatient me).

    Cotour wrote: “Why aren’t they building this?

    This sounds like Arrakis in Frank Herbert’s book “Dune.”

    I keep hearing about desalinization through reverse osmosis, but that is power intensive, so far.

    Cotour’s second video has a complaint that there is very salty water returned to the Mediterranean, and they don’t know how that will affect sea life, but I am willing to bet that the evaporation of the Mediterranean is far, far greater than the 600,000 cubic meters of water that they extract each day. The Mediterranean has more evaporation than water flowing in from all its rivers, thus there is a net inflow of water through the Straight of Gibraltar.

    In my area, they have been using reclaimed water for irrigation for a couple of decades. Just do not to drink from the purple pipes.

  • Cotour

    How we learn:

    You find a model of success in the field that you are interested in. In this case producing real and substantial quantities of water in a desert like climate. And then you think about it comparing new thinking and new technology to your situation and sort out the real and practical from the fantasy. Its a process.

    In this case the Israelis seem to have this nailed down in the real world using real technology in a similar environment. So of course you opt to drag a multi gigaton ice berg from Ant Arctica to your location. That may be one option, but is it really long term serious? The solution has already been developed and its looking you in the eye balls. Is the EAU really going to reinvent the solution to this question? I do not think so.

  • Cotour

    I will continue with this subject because it gets interesting:

    What is the average humidity in the UAE? Apparently about 60%.

    Amazingly similar to NYC. Maybe they should begin to investigate harvesting water right from the air.

    I am certain that this water harvesting technology has its limitations and the water desailination system is the hard core way to go long term, but it is interesting.

  • wayne

    Good factoids on a variety of stuff.
    (as I understand it, desalinization using reverse-osmosis with nuclear generated electric, is the lowest cost methodology, followed by natural-gas. Using solar is way over on the other end of the expense and total-energy inputs required, spectrum.)

    Extracting water out of the atmosphere isn’t a new concept. But it is highly interesting, so I do thank you for bringing it up. (My air-conditioner does it all Summer long, as a by-product of extracting heat from my house air.)
    It is however, electricity-intensive.
    All these systems require temperature differentials inside a condenser type unit, where moisture will condense, and most (but certainly not all) of them are utilizing pumped refrigerants of some sort, and that means electricity for pumping.

    (tangentially– a number of industrial gases are produced by air-liquefaction & fractional-distillation of the atmosphere, which is also an energy intensive process.)
    “Gases from the Air”
    [In this process, water is a no-value by-product and drained off.]

    -What I’m not readily seeing for these type of water machines, is the total net cost per gallon of water extracted.
    (I am seeing household sized models, as well as portable emergency units the size of tractor-trailers, used for natural disasters.)

    Desalinization as well, is electricity intensive, and that goes for both distillation or the reverse-osmosis method. Distilling sea-water requires a heat source, reverse-osmosis requires pumped high-pressure water through membranes.)
    Either way– energy inputs are required to perform work on the atmosphere. There is no free lunch when it comes to converting water between it various states of gas, frozen ice, or liquid forms. That requires energy in some form, (and a general willingness to NOT outlaw heat-transfer agents such as FREON, for dubious political reasoning..)

    I think the more pertinent question might be– what are the realistic total life-cycle costs between expropriating ice-bergs and dragging them around, Vs. the other methods already in industrial use for producing potable water, in quantities required?

    tangentially– I learned in Boy Scouts, how to extract water out of the air, using plastic film (made from oil) & digging a hole in the ground. (So, bring Saran wrap if you’re hiking in the desert…)
    The downside to that method (no moving parts & no energy added by me)– it takes all day to get a very small amount, and the sun has to be shining.

  • Early Bird

    This sounds like Arrakis in Frank Herbert’s book “Dune.”

    It’s odd you should mention Dune, because all this wildly improbable iceberg business has me wondering abut the possibility of finding some out-of-work magician to build a “working” stillsuit for me. I could then demonstrate the suit before the UAE government, accept an enormous cheque from them to mass produce the things, then disappear over the horizon.

    But that would be wrong

  • wayne

    Early Bird–
    good stuff.

    (…Insane, 3rd world, inbreeders, with delusions they are actually a 1st world country with a science program.)

    Totally off-thread– interesting factoid, while on my way to look up other interesting factoids…
    -The President’s Uncle, was Dr. John G. Trump, Physicist.

  • Cotour

    Yes, all of these methods are energy intense, ask Israel, they built a serious long term non fantastical water purification systems in the middle of the desert and it is delivering real water at a known cost.

    I would think it a good opportunity for the solar industry and the animation industry to demonstrate their viability by producing all of the electricity and associated technology for these installations. The UAE is flush, abundant in sun light and surprisingly humidity at the seas edge, why not demonstrate all of the newest technologies right there?

    Thinking different and thinking big is one thing but if your “different think” / “Big think” produces only animation and projections then its not real.

  • wayne

    DewPoint Infinite Water;
    3000 Gallon Mobile Atmospheric Water Harvester

    My latest quarterly water & sewer bill– I pay 1.7 cents a gallon for water & sewer-treatment, combined. (This is why you sprinkle your lawn with well-water and not municipal water.)
    (compared to the 16 cents per KwH I pay for electric, up from 8 cents/KwH as recently as 2008.)

  • wayne

    Referencing the “T-40” household Unit by Dewpoint Infinite water;
    (website is at

    “produces up to 8.5 gallons a day at 85 degrees F with 80% relative humidity,” with an energy draw of 500-600 watts. (and uses R-134A refrigerant)

    The Mobile Unit “produces up to 3,000 gallons” per day, and is powered by the diesel-engine in the truck, or it can be run off a 90HP electric motor or a 180HP “carbon fuel” motor. (and uses R-407C refrigerant)

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