It is said that most of the freshwater on earth is locked up in the Polar Regions. Can harvesting icebergs be the solution to the global water crisis? (250 W/ 15 M)

Mentor’s Note:

Point out the increasing water scarcity in the world (and problem of desalination of seawater so far) and that around 2000 mts of ice are breaking away each year in the polar region, which contain some of the purest quality water in the world. End the intro with the mentioning of UAE Iceberg project, where firms are planning to get icebergs from Antarctica to UAE to provide people with freshwater.

Straightway jump to the positives of the initiatives (in terms of global application) and whether it can be done successfully. In the second part, mention the challenges in the process like geography, technology, cost of harnessing, uneven distribution across the regions globally, etc.

In the way forward you have to mention that while it can be an innovative idea, but conventional methods of water conservation will go long way in solving the water crisis (better water management in irrigation, greener environment, reducing carbon emission, changing dietary habits, reprocessing waste water etc.)

Model Answer:

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. While about 71 percent of the Earth’s surface is water-covered, and the oceans hold about 96.5 percent of all Earth’s water, we don’t have enough fresh water. High expenses, excessive use of energy, wastewater are some of the problems with the desalination of ocean water and that is why the process has not gained much traction except that of in Middle East regions.

Amid these situations, we have UAE Iceberg project, where firms are planning to get icebergs from Antarctica to UAE to provide people with freshwater. The firm has drawn up plans to harvest icebergs in the southern Indian Ocean and tow them away to the Gulf, where they could be melted down for freshwater and marketed as a tourist attraction.


Something like 70 percent of the Earth’s freshwater 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. But it has challenges as well as benefits. Let’s have a look at them:

Problems with harnessing fresh water from icebergs:

  • The first problem is melting.
  • If you were to try towing a naked iceberg to Southern California, it would melt long before it got there.
  • The second problem is the draft of an iceberg.
  • Almost all of an iceberg is submerged under water. The size will make it hard to get it anywhere near land.
  • It will have to melt in its fabric wrapper well offshore, and then the water can be pumped in.
  • High cost of the initiative
  • Technology efficiency is needed because mishandling can lead to big accidents.
  • Prolonged contact of the icebergs with warm currents of the gulf region.
  • Sustainability of the plan in long term.
  • This initiative can cater only those regions which are closer to poles and have seashores. Landlocked nations are at disadvantageous position in the scheme of things.

Positives of the initiative:

It would be great if you could easily transport an iceberg. A good-sized iceberg might measure 3,000 x 1,500 x 600 feet.

  • An iceberg that size contains somewhere around 20 billion gallons of fresh water.
  • For 10 million people, it would last 200 days. It really is a lot of water.
  • With today’s technology, it certainly is possible from a brute force standpoint.
  • To solve above mentioned problems, it might be easier to mine the icebergs in the Arctic and fill up supertankers with ice shavings.
  • It would be a lot quicker and easier to move the water around in a supertanker.
  • Since fresh water doesn’t pose nearly the environmental hazard that oil does, it might be possible to build much larger ships that hold far more liquid.

Way Forward:

  • Instead of these unconventional methods, focus should be on the more conventional and tangible approach to face the arising water crisis in the world.
  • Natural methods like reforestation and forest conservation, reconnecting rivers to flood plains, wetland restoration and water harvesting will regulate the water supply.
  • Agricultural systems that conserve ecosystem services by using practices such as conservation tillage, crop diversification, legume intensification and biological pest control, must be encouraged.
  • The environmental co-benefits of nature-based solutions decrease pressures on land conversion and reduced pollution, erosion and water requirements.
  • Constructed wetlands for wastewater treatment can also be a cost-effective and provides adequate supply of water for irrigation and additional benefits that include energy production.
  • Watershed management is another nature-based solution that will spur local economic development, job creation, biodiversity protection and climate resilience.
  • Managing water flows through urban landscapes can improve water resources availability.
  • Catchment management outside urban areas, improved recycling of water within urban water cycles, green infrastructure within urban boundaries are some of the nature based solutions for improving water resources availability.

Either way, we will hear more and more about fresh water in the years to come. As the human population grows, water will become a critical resource in many parts of the world. Initiatives like harnessing polar ice for freshwater can be a good idea but eventually the policy makers will have to fall back to more conventional methods to conserve water and reuse it. It will help the mother Earth in long term as well.