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article imageTowing an iceberg to the U.A.E. for fresh water met with ridicule

By Karen Graham     Jun 12, 2017 in Environment
Abu Dhabi - While the idea of towing a massive iceberg from Antarctica to supply drinking water to millions of people in the United Arab Emirates may sound ludicrous, it is in the planning stages. But, does this "stopgap measure" actually address the real problem?
Canadian Earth Sciences professor Miriam Diamond, with the University of Toronto, thinks the plan to drag icebergs from Heard Island, in the Antarctic, some 9,200 kilometers (5,717 miles) north to Fujairah, on the coast of the United Arab Emirates is "unwise."
The plan was first announced in the Gulf News on May 2, 2017. An Abu Dhabi-based Eco firm announced plans to tow icebergs to the UAE from Antarctica beginning in early 2018 to harvest the ice for pure drinking water.
Abdullah Mohammad Sulaiman Al Shehi, the managing director of National Advisor Bureau Limited, headquartered in Masdar City told Gulf News in an interview that his firm had already mapped the transportation route, adding variable simulations through computer modeling to test the feasibility of what he is calling the UAE Iceberg Project.
A view of Dubai
Digital Journal
However, despite the hype, Professor Diamond told CTV News Canada that the U.A.E. should be focusing its efforts on reducing water use instead of "absurd" ventures like hauling ice from Antarctica.
Ignoring the real problem with a stopgap measure
"I think it's an unwise idea," Diamond told CTV's Your Morning on Monday. She cited the cost alone would be exorbitant, and this is true. Back in the 1970s, a similar idea to bring polar ice to the U.A.E. was shot down because of the cost and technical issues involved at the time. And while our technology has come a long way in the last 40 or so years, the cost could still be outrageous.
The U.A.E.'s National Advisor Bureau argues that an iceberg would bring billions of gallons of fresh water to the region, and would also help to increase tourism because of the uniqueness of the iceberg being in such an unusual place. They also claim the icebergs would create "microclimates," bringing more rains to the region.
A gardener watering plants
In a statement to Gulf News, Al Shehi said that when the icebergs come into contact with the hot regional air, “cold air gushing out from an iceberg close to the shores of the Arabian Sea would cause a trough and rainstorms across the Arabian Gulf and the southern region of the Arabian Peninsula all year round."
There is even a somewhat amusing video describing in animation how the project will work. The film depicts penguins and polar bears hitching a ride on the iceberg and the hot, arid region being turned into a lush green paradise. And while polar bears are found at the North Pole, a small error on the company's part, the bigger error is claiming a reversal of the ecosystem.
Why the iceberg project is so unwise
And that is one issue Professor Diamond is most vocal about - Saying that postponing more urgent concerns about water sustainability by diverting money and effort toward a "quick-fix" will only speed up global warming. She explains her views on the project, and they do make sense.
Diamond says the presence of an iceberg or several icebergs will create more problems for ocean life along the route and certainly, once it reaches its destination. "Locally, it will create a zone of very cold fresh water in an oceanic system which is not friendly… for the animals and the plants living in the region," she said.
Professor Diamond also points out that the fleet of ships needed to guide or tow the icebergs will use an awful lot of fossil fuels, adding to the melting of our polar ice caps. "The dirtiest fuel available is saved for ocean-going ships," she said. "And why are these icebergs available for towing? Because of climate change."
While acknowledging that there is a major problem with water sources in the region, with some estimates suggesting the U.A.E. and the surrounding area could run out of water in as little as 15 years, Diamond points out that Dubai is only adding to the problem because their wealth from oil and gas has created a "very elaborate, water-rich city which is completely unsustainable. It's true Disney land."
Diamond says there is only one answer to the water shortage problem in the U.A.E. - "Reduce your demand," she said. "Get a handle on it."
More about United arab emirates, National Advisor Bureau, Drinking water, Antarctica, Icebergs
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