5 Thoughts About Abu Dhabi’s Iceberg Rodeo

A company in Abu Dhabi plans to tow giant icebergs from Antarctica to the UAE, supplying 20 billion gallons of fresh water to a parched region. Can we talk about this? Because I’m a skeptic. There are just so many things.

  1. The melting. The idea is to lasso the ‘berg, then tow it through increasingly warmer oceans and dock it in such a way that the melting water can be added to the UAE’s freshwater supply. A decent chunk of the iceberg will melt en route, and there’s no way to secure the lasso for the trip. The tighter it is, the more friction it produces, which means the lasso will slowly carve into or slide off the iceberg during the months-long rodeo to get there.
  2. The travel. Icebergs don’t drift north and make their way out of the Southern Ocean because the current holding them near Antarctica is so strong. Anything large enough not to break apart and melt in the rough seas would likely get caught in the strong undercurrent. It would take a disproportionate (and rather absurd) amount of energy for a boat to defy those currents and pull a giant iceberg north.
  3. The money. I know the UAE is flush with cash and builds islands and indoor recreation to rival anything, anywhere, but dragging icebergs around the globe seems like a short-term solution to a problem that isn’t going away. Right now, icebergs are towed for a few miles to keep them away from oil drilling platforms and shipping lanes. The UAE’s iceberg rodeo is estimated to require an initial capital outlay of $500 million; imagine the long-term payoff if that were an investment in water technology.
  4. The biology. Without knowing what microbes these icebergs contain, we can be certain that the contain things that don’t currently exist in the UAE. We’ve been transferring organisms and animals around the globe for longer than ships have been sailing the seas, but defrosting a massive amount of them in a completely different environment seems like the premise of a disaster flick.
  5. The reality. Is this how we plan to deal with global warming? We decimate the polar ice caps, then drag the shards across oceans to an area that builds indoor ski parks in the desert? How about we stop trying to make the best of the situation and start trying to make the situation better? Instead of hauling ice to a faraway destination, let’s sling that iceberg back onto glacier. Do it up nice: a giant roll of duct tape, some well placed wire, butterfly those pieces back together? The approach is about as reasonable, and this way we’re repairing the damage we’ve done. We can do it on the way to the indoor ski park.