There's a lot of fresh water stored up at the poles. In fact, Antarctica by itself contains about 70% of the Earth's entire fresh water supply. So it's not too crazy to think about maybe chopping some of that off and shipping it to thirsty people in Africa, right? Or maybe it is crazy, but a new simulation shows that it might actually work.
Here's the idea: you get a big, powerful boat. You find a big, powerful iceberg. Lasso the latter with the former, tow it to Africa (or anywhere else you need fresh water), and then just go to town with chainsaws and buckets. A 30-million-ton iceberg would be able to provide fresh water to half a million people for an entire year, even if you hauled it up into the tropics.
It's a straightforward concept, but it's the execution that's the doozy. Even if it's floating, 30 million tons is still 30 million tons. You'd need to wrap the entire thing in an insulating skirt to help keep it from melting, and even if you did, it would be about 40% smaller when it arrived than when it started. No tugboat is powerful enough on its own, so you'd need to attach a giant kite sail to the iceberg itself, and even with that added thrust, you'd be looking at a five-month, one-mile-an-hour trip.
A recent simulation has shown that this idea is likely feasible, although the model only used a seven-ton iceberg and the estimated cost was something around $10 million. In 1977, it was estimated that a 100-million-ton 'berg could be harvested for about $100 million, which means that over 1.5 million people would get a year's worth of ice cold ultra-pure glacial melt water for a mere $60 a year.
Seeing as icebergs are continually breaking off of the polar caps and just floating aimlessly around the oceans anyway, snapping them up seems like a reasonable enough idea, and the first real-world test may take place as soon as next year.