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Gulf News (UAE), 09.08.2009

By Emmanuelle Landais, Staff Reporter

Icebergs could meet region's fresh water supply needs

A Russian scientist believes icebergs could provide untapped quantities of pure water for the Middle East and thus create an environmentally friendly alternative to desalination.

Icebergs could provide untapped quantities of pure water to satisfy the thirst of the Middle East by creating an alternative to desalination without the generation of air or marine pollution.

Dubai: Icebergs could provide untapped quantities of pure water to satisfy the thirst of the Middle East by creating an alternative to desalination without the generation of air or marine pollution, according to Russian researchers. The researchers hope their project will provide a solution to water scarcity in the region.

Hamid Khalidov, a Russian scientist and his representative in the UAE, Kudret Efendiev, a doctor of physics working at Sharjah International School, have been promoting the theory of capturing 'alive water' from the North Pole for over a decade. So far the project, which would demand an investment of $2 billion (Dh7.34 billion), remains a theory.

However, Khalidov has outlined five methods of capturing water from icebergs. These include towing them from the North Pole, Alaska or Greenland to the coast of Saudi Arabia - where plants will be built to receive the mammoth chunks of ice.

Other methods include the extraction of liquid water on site, the transportation of fine pieces of ice or the transportation of large blocks of ice, cut out from the iceberg and which will weigh many tonnes.

The most feasible method involved transporting smaller, whole icebergs rather than bigger ones. This was outlined in a paper published in the Aqua Journal of Water Supply Services and Technology in 1998.

Khalidov said "an iceberg, six-sevenths of which remains submerged, and which floats 10 to 12 km a day, can overturn 5-6 times during its lifetime& After every overturning of an iceberg, each new installation of tow cables would require an unacceptable cost in time and labour to correct."

Around $2 billion would be required to complete the project in two years. Factors to consider include special boats, a special mooring facility and stationary ice-receivers. Containers and equipment for the project would also have to be manufactured.

The Antarctic ice sheet is one of the two polar ice caps of the Earth. It covers about 98 per cent of the Antarctic continent and is the largest single mass of ice on the planet. It covers an area of almost 14 million square kilometres and contains 30 million cubic kilometres of ice. That is, approximately 61 per cent of all fresh water on the Earth - an amount equivalent to 70 per cent of the volume of the world's oceans.

"The removal of one cubic kilometre of ice [from a shelf glacier in the Antarctic continent] is of little consequence - particularly if one considers the benefits to the life and health of millions of people," Khalidov said.

Mohammad Raouf, the programme manager for environment research at the Dubai-based Gulf Research Centre, said he had heard of the idea.

However, he added that the environmental impact would outweigh the potential gain of accessing fresh water supplies.

"I think technically it is feasible. But if you take into account the costs and the environmental damage, it might not be. I believe it will remain one of the solutions - in case a real need emerges such as severe water shortage problem," he said.

The legal aspects of transporting ice would also be very complicated, he said.

"Ecologically, which is more important, if countries race to get this, we will cause another imbalanced situation in these locations. [The] cost is still very high at $2 billion without taking into consideration ecological costs and water loss costs [such as melting]," he said.

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