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Shall we drink icebergs?

Posted in Nature, Science, Technology on Saturday, 18 August 2007

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Shall we drink icebergs (illustration, picture, art)

Scientists in the Arctic and Antarctic are making some exciting discoveries about the history and structure of the Earth’s icecaps. Now [ie 1973] some of them are studying plans to make use of these frozen assets by towing icebergs to drought-stricken areas to provide water.

In 1957 a scientist at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography at La Jolla, California, proposed a scheme to float a 20 mile long chain of icebergs from the Antarctic to the southern Californian coast to provide fresh water to a dry, over-populated region.

The idea was pooh-poohed as a piece of nonsense. But today [ie 1973] the proposal is being studied again not just by the Scripps Institute but also by the US National Science Foundation and the Rand Corporation.

Scientists believe that icebergs could provide the cheapest answer to solving southern California’s water problem. While the scheme is still very much in its infancy as a practical proposition, it is still considered feasible. According to the experts, one two-mile long iceberg would yield about one million acre feet of soft water — purer even than spa springs — and more than the 720,000 population of San Diego use in a year. It is estimated that fresh water from the icebergs could be delivered to southern California for about £10 an acre, one foot deep — half the cost of Colorado river water brought to the area via the California viaduct. The water is fresh because the icebergs break off the Antarctic ice cap, which has been produced by snow and ice over thousands of years.

Apart from providing an abundance of fresh water, scientists consider that the icebergs would be able to give Californians a permanent access to winter sports. Adapting them for skiing and skating, or even installing chair lifts, would be a comparatively simple operation. A ferry boat service could take winter sports lovers out to the icebergs, which, it is proposed, would be run aground about a mile offshore. A possible site lies off the US Marine Corps camp Pendleton, a few miles south of President Nixon’s Western White House at San Clemente.

Scientists visualise making up a chain of eight icebergs, each about two miles long, one mile wide and 900 feet thick. The first would serve as the “locomotive” equipped with electrically driven propellers and drawing power from a slack cable linked to an escort ship. They would travel north across the Pacific at about one knot.

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