WaterTowing icebergs to provide fresh water for parched regions

Published 10 August 2011

A third of the world’s population — more than two billion people — lives without access to clean drinking water, and studies show that the situation will only get worse; a French innovator has an idea: towing icebergs from the Greenland and Antarctica to regions most in need of fresh water; a computer simulation shows this solution to be viable and affordable

An idea that first surfaced in the 1970's may be right for today // Source: icetrim.org

A third of the world’s population — more than two billion people — lives without access to clean drinking water, and recent droughts in Africa have left twelve million people without water. To aid them, French eco-entrepreneur Georges Mougin plans to harvest icebergs across the world to solve the water shortage.

For the last forty years – Mougin, 86, first came up with his iceberg scheme in the early 1970s – he  has tried to figure out a way to tow freshwater icebergs across the Arctic. Experts have argued it would be too expensive and difficult to carry out his plan, but now it appears this his dream is about to come true.

Fast Company reports that with the help of computer simulations from French software firm Dassault Systems, his project to make usage of what he calls the “floating reservoirs” has been proven to be viable and affordable.

When icebergs break off from the ice caps of Greenland and melt into the salty ocean, billions of gallons of freshwater are lost without contributing even an ounce to solving the world’s growing fresh water crisis. Mougin has invented a system for encircling an iceberg with a harness containing a skirt made from an insulating textile. The skirt unfolds underwater and covers the iceberg so it would not melt. Then the iceberg will ride on ocean currents until it is towed to the lands suffering from drought.

According to results suggested by 3D computer simulations, a single tugboat from Newfoundland can transport seven million tons of iceberg to the Canary Islands in less than five months without melting the iceberg.

Initial simulations showed the tug struggling after it hit an eddy, resulting in too much melting and wasteful consumption of heavy fuel. After changing the departure date from May to mid-June the tug was able to tow the iceberg in just 141 days with only 38 percent melting. The remaining iceberg still have plenty of fresh water for consumption and it only cost £6 million.

The cost of the project still remains a problem. Towing the iceberg from Newfoundland to the Canary Islands would cost an estimated £6 million (about $10 million).


Mougin hopes the latest proof from the simulations will allow him to raise fund for a trial run next year that will tow a smaller iceberg from Antarctic to Australia.

If the project is successful, then a 30-million ton iceberg will supply 500,000 people with fresh water for a year.