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mattbrowne's avatar

Freshwater shortage in Southern California - What do you think about the idea of using icebergs as a new source of fresh water?

Asked by mattbrowne (31557points) April 5th, 2009

From “How Stuff Works”: Fresh water is scarce in many parts of the world. Places like Southern California, Saudi Arabia, and many countries on the African continent can use all the fresh water they can get. Something like 70 percent of the Earth’s fresh water is locked up in the polar ice caps, and the ice caps calve icebergs naturally all the time. It therefore makes sense to think about towing huge icebergs to the places in the world that need fresh water the most. The first problem is melting. If you’ve ever run tap water over an ice cube, you know that even cold running water can melt an ice cube very quickly. It’s the same effect that causes wind chill, but with running water, the effect is even greater. The second problem is the draft of an iceberg. The expression “tip of the iceberg” comes from the fact that almost all of an iceberg is submerged under water. A big iceberg is hundreds of feet deep.

To solve both of these problems, it might be easier to mine the icebergs in the Arctic and fill up supertankers with ice shavings. Modern supertankers can hold something like 100 million gallons of liquid. That’s a drop in the bucket compared to the 20 billion gallons in an iceberg, but it would be a lot quicker and easier to move the water around in a supertanker.

What are your thoughts? Is it a totally crazy idea? A last resort? Is desalination a more promising approach?

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6 Answers

Judi's avatar

I think desalinization might be cheaper. The ice caps are disappearing fast enough due to global warming.

AlfredaPrufrock's avatar

I think desalination is more promising, because with icebergs there is a depletion issue, whereas with desalination the salt byproduct would be a contention. The oceans are constantly being replenished by precipitation. An on-going concern would be to adjust the technology to account for increased salinity. Also, access to coastline is more widespread, enabling more desalination plants globally. But perhaps we also learn to convert salt into other materials. or perhaps we shoot the salt byproduct to the moon, and store it there, out of the atmosphere.

T. Boone Pickens’ wind power project is less about wind power, and more about controlling the ground water rights under that land where the wind harvesting would take place.

hungryhungryhortence's avatar

I like the idea as long as the depletion doesn’t overtake the ice caps calving new bergs. My other suspicion is like much that comes to attention as being available or in newfound abundance, abuses and overuse can follow. I’d hate to see the icebergs viewed as a source to golf course the earth.

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

I’ve read that desalinization uses a lot of energy, and dumping the waste products of it, mainly salt, has caused some serious environmental issues.

I think the iceberg theory has been considered before but I like the idea of filling a supertanker with ice shavings, and I think it might become a viable alternative in the future. Water is going to be the new ‘OIL’ soon, and has already started in some places like in the American SouthWest as those states harvest the resources of the Colorado River to bring water to 1 in 12 Americans. As it stands now, the Colorado River is nearly dry by the time it reaches its mouth.

MissAnthrope's avatar

I think we need to leave what natural ice there is completely alone. I consider it like I would an endangered species – preservation is necessary.

We need to look into alternative methods, and honestly, people need to become more conscientious about their water usage.

One statistic that really stuck with me is that the average American toilet flush consumes more water than the average African uses in an entire day. Because of the abundance of clean water, we are so wasteful and thoughtless in our consideration of water, which is actually far more precious than we’re accustomed to thinking.

Linda_Owl's avatar

I think it is a marvelous idea if science can figure out how to safely implement it. The first & possibly the biggest problem would/will be coming up with a safe way to move icebergs from where they occur to where the fresh water is needed.

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