By Mahenau Leghari
The National Advisor Bureau Limited (NABL) in Dubai sees icebergs as opportunities for fresh water and a cooler climate. The NABL is a Dubai firm hoping to tow the icebergs from the Southern Indian Ocean to the Arabian Peninsula by 2019, where they can then be melted down for fresh water and also serve as a tourist attraction. “The icebergs are just floating in the Indian Ocean,” the managing director Abdullah Al-Sehi told The Associated Press in his Dubai office. “They are up for grabs to whoever can take them.”
It is no surprise that an idea like this would come from Dubai, which is already famous for its indoor ski slope, artificial islands, and novel skyscrapers, one of which is known as the tallest in the world. Unfortunately, the plan has been met with resistance from environmentalists and people who believe the ice caps should stay as they are.
The firm plans to send ships down to Heard Island, which is an Australian nature reserve in the Southern Indian Ocean. From there, they would search for icebergs around the size of a truck, also commonly known as growlers.
The workers would then secure the iceberg to the boats with nets and bring it over to the UAE, which is estimated to take around a year to tow. The firm believes that because most of the icebergs’ mass is underwater, they will not melt too much during the trip back. Al-Sehi said each iceberg would hold around 20 billion gallons of fresh water which can be harvested with desalinization at a relatively cheaper cost.
Al-Sehi also said that the project was a private initiative and that he would seek government approval once his firm completes its feasibility study. He refused to share any of the cost estimates and said that it has not yet carried out an environmental study.
Robert Brears, the founder of the climate think tank Mitidaption, has studied the feasibility of Antarctic ice harvesting and estimates that the project would require at least $500 million.
There is also a challenge at Heard Island, which is home to many birds, seals, fish, and penguins. Australia strictly limits access as they do not want to disrupt the area’s rich ecosystem with large ships. Even if the firm’s plan is approved, the towing of the iceberg itself may be dangerous. “There are thousands and thousands of icebergs drifting around and they can move without warning,” says Christopher Readinger, who is the head of the Antarctic team at the US National Ice Center. “Storms down there can be really brutal, and there’s really not anyone that can help.”
“It’s the driest ice in the world,” said Brears. “You could melt a lot of this ice and get very little water from it.” Environmentalists are also saying that there are many simpler options to help climate change in the Middle East, like drip-irrigation, fixing leaks and water conservation.
“This region is the heartland of the global oil industry, it will be at the forefront of experiencing these massive, insane heat waves, and there’s only one way to avoid this – reducing emissions and keeping all fossil fuels in the ground,” said Hoda Baraka, a spokeswoman for the climate advocacy group 350.org.
The director of the consultancy firm Climate Focus, Charlotte Steck, said that Green investment groups are unlikely to finance the iceberg project, as it is “an exceptionally futile and expensive way” to solve water and climate issues. She also said that it “seems to run counter to all ideas of climate change adaptation.” The Pawprint covered this story around two years ago, where it was only a rumor and only a plan, and it is unknown if the plan can be pulled off or will end up just like the first plan again.
Al-Sehi, however, is unfazed by these comments and says that the project will have no impact on Antarctica or any other natural environment, and the whole process will be a “drop in the ocean.”
Whether or not the plan commences remains to be seen as many are against the idea, while others believe it is a new, innovative way to solve environmental issues and is a step into future thinking.