Despite the fact that it was an iceberg that actually sank the Titanic and many other ships over the years, you still can’t deny that icebergs are a hugely valuable resource for human beings – at least in terms of water. Furthermore, with all the talk about the scarcity of water in many parts of the world, can’t we just use water from icebergs to fulfill the water needs of the planet’s growing population?
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An iceberg is basically a massive piece of ice that contains freshwater (non-saline water) and usually floats on the surface of the water in the oceans. Generally, the weight of icebergs ranges from 100,000 to 200,000 metric tons. To make that a bit easier to conceptualize, imagine that an iceberg of that size can contain almost 20 billions gallons of freshwater.
This can fulfill the daily water requirements of 1 million people for 5 years (given that the usage of water per day is 10 gallons). That is an incredibly large amount of freshwater!
Can we Use Icebergs as a Source of Water?
Yes, we can! Given the amount of water that they hold, they can be a very important source of water to cater to the needs of the growing populace. All you have to do is tie an iceberg with extremely strong ropes and pull it all the way home with some high-powered tugboats. Obviously, the entire process wouldn’t be as easy as it sounds, but from a practical standpoint, it’s not something that can’t be done.
Problems with ‘towing’ an iceberg
An iceberg can be towed to the vicinity of a shoreline, but there are two main issues that need to be tackled. The first one is quite obvious; an iceberg is an enormous object to ‘tow’ around. The expression ‘tip of the iceberg’ comes from the fact that only a very tiny portion of the entire iceberg is visible above the surface of water; a much larger portion of the iceberg remains submerged underwater. With that large of a size, it would be hard to move it anywhere near land. This is why you would have to collect the water from the wrapper of the iceberg and pump it onto the land to use.
The other problem that you face is melting. Since you are essentially pulling a giant rock of ice to shore, you can expect it to melt as it is dragged through seawater. Even if the seawater is very cold, it will impart enough heat to cause some of the iceberg to melt.
Think about what happens when you put a cube of ice under running tap water; it makes the cube melt in no time, no matter how cold the tap water might be. Therefore, you’ll need a special type of ‘wrapping material’ that could hold the water as the ice melts. This would require a lot of fabric, perhaps Kevlar or something equally durable. However, even that tough material would be prone to ripping during storms along the journey.
An Alternate Method
Extracting water from icebergs can actually be done by an alternate method that few people have considered – mining!
Icebergs (plenty of which can be found in the Arctic) can be mined in that ocean, without having to tow it anywhere, and the ice shavings can be stored in supertankers. These tankers have the capacity to hold almost 100 million gallons, and even that is quite small compared to the mammoth capacity of an iceberg. Tankers can be used effectively to harvest freshwater from icebergs because it avoids both of the problems previously mentioned. Also, as technology will likely improve, as it always seems to do, we could develop larger, higher-volume supertankers to accomplish this task and help solve a major problem in the world.
The world is going to need a lot of freshwater in the coming years to quench the thirst of our growing population; it’s high time that we figured out more creative and effective ways to face this imminent challenge.
How to Build a Habitable Planet: The Story of Earth from the Big Bang to Humankind – Revised and Expanded Edition