Moving icebergs

When I was in grammar school, I’d read about a plan to transport polar ice to middle eastern countries to provide them with fresh water. Basically, the plan was to cut giant slabs into a barge-like shape, wrap them in plastic, and tow them to the Middle East… The theory was, the large mass, wrapped in plastic, would survive the trip without melting completely.

After not hearing about it for a few years, the subject came up again, and was ridiculed – “Yeah, they tried it, it melted” And I was like, “Bu … but … they calculated, and it would have made the trip” Nope. Wrong. Next question.

The plan is even mentioned in the 80’s movie Brewsters Millions, as one of the crackpot inventions Richard Pryor’s character decides to waste his money on. “It’ll melt and he knows it” barks John Candy’s character.

So if it was so obvious, why was the idea even … um … floated? Who planned it, who bankrolled it, who’d calculations were so very far off, and what happened to the idea.

It comes to my mind again because of the news story about weakening hurricanes by towing an iceberg into their path to deprive them of warm water and air.

An overview of iceberg towing schemes.

Fascinating article. Thanks for finding it.

Thanks. Its very clear, since they equate it with prykete, that some people have worked out some theory, without taking engineering into account.

Fish Cheer’s article seems to mostly focus on development of the idea rather than practical attempts, so:
Has anyone ever actually tried to tow an iceberg to the Middle East/California?

The article is interesting, but the author seems to have a decidedly jaundiced view of the entire idea–yet, he doesn’t explicitly say what’s wrong with it.

It appears that it is certainly possible to tow an iceberg. So is the reason no one has done the tow-it-to-some-arid-region thing is that it’s not cost-effective?

I’d love to see calculations to this effect, in terms of fuel and labor costs, loss from shrinkage, etc. versus the market price of the fresh water (especially in someplace like Saudi Arabia). My gut feeling is that under certain conditions, this could actually be a practical idea, not a “crackpot scheme.”

Brewster made money in his towing scheme, of course that was Hollywood. A quick google search dug up this article:

*Mid 1800s: According to the Encyclopedia of Antartica, small icebergs were towed from southern Chile up to Valparaiso as part of the brewery supply chain. A Chilean researcher said, “The icebergs were towed by ships of the conventional type. Sometimes the icebergs were supplied with sails to utilize the prevailing winds. The ice was used for refrigerating purposes in the breweries and was generally substituted for artificial ice.” Apparently, the business continued until about the turn of the century.
Link here.

Wasn’t moving an iceberg a plot in an episode of Salvage 1?

No no no. That was a documentary :slight_smile:

As for cost, if you want a ballpark figure of the cost to do it (ignoring the whole melting factor) take a look at what it would cost to move water using one of those giant oil transport ships. My WAG is that its in the sub dollar per gallon range.

<raises hand>

Question here - sounds like they are talking about sea ice - which would be frozen salt water, right? In the Chilean example above, they used it for chilling, not consumption. Seems you would need a large enuf chunk of continental ice to be liberated to the sea to make the idea workable. Icebergs calving off Greenland may be big, but not that big. Seems like there are no sources large enuf in the northern hemisphere, maybe in the south?

Fight my ignorance - are the Antarctic ice shelves fresh or salt water?

Sea ice is fresh water. But there may be a fair amount of salty brine trapped in the ice. Which I would guess limits the ability of melting the ice to get fresh water.

Glacier ice that’s flowed into the sea is fresh.

I wonder if it would be possible to overcome the losses and engineering challenges brought about by melting in transit by building a massive drydock-style ship, towing icebergs into it, then transporting them as cargo - it wouldn’t matter if they arrived in liquid or solid phase if they’re contained.

I’m guessing the cost of building such a vessel would take a long time to recover - possibly longer than its operational life.

Now I have this vision of Project Plowshare proposing detonating a 20-megaton hydrogen bomb under the Antarctic icecap, so that cubic miles of ice is thrown into a suborbital trajectory planned to come down on the Sahara desert as rainwater. :stuck_out_tongue:

In the first part of the nineteen hundreds there was at least one company that made quite a bit of money cutting ice in blocks from New England lakes, packing it in sawdust in a sailing ship, and sailing to India where it was sold at a very good profit. The first voyage took four months and seven days, and most of the ice made it unmelted. I don’t remember how long this trade lasted, but it was not a fly-by-night operation.

I assume you’re referring to the goofy 70s TV show with Andy Griffith. The original TV movie/pilot was about them salvaging Lunar equipment from the surface of the Moon and bringing it back to Earth. As ridiculous as that sounds (and is) I remember the show being pretty fun & entertaining (for a 12-year-old!) Anyway, at the very end of the movie they mention that their next job was the aforementioned towing an iceberg for drinking water.

The movie got picked up as a series, but it only lasted one season (maybe only 13 episodes) and I don’t think they ever did do an episode about the iceberg. Someone can cheat and check Wikipedia… :smiley:

Much less than that. The freight cost to carry coal half-way around the world is typically in the range of US$10 to 20 per tonne (1 to 2 cents per kg). I presume the figure would be similar for other bulk commodities.