An alternative water resource project for the 21 st century
The ancient adage 'water is life' will bear special significance in the 21st century. According to the experts, there will be little fresh water remaining on Earth. Yugoslavia, Algeria, Hong Kong and Singapore already rely on imported drinking water. By the end of the 20th century the states of northern Africa and the Middle East will have consumed all the ground water in their regions. Water shortages are today experienced by 250 million people, and UN experts have forecast that within only a few years there will be shortages in countries with total populations of up to 1 bn. This will be a great challenge for the forthcoming century. For decades, the world of science has been searching for ways to supply water to needy regions and countries, but as yet nothing has been put forward. Many different devices, including nuclear and solar energy, have been used to create water resources but none of them, either separately or together, are capable of satisfactosThe water which is produced is not always of a high quality, and its cost is usually too high. It has become clear that a new solution to this global problem is necessary, in order to provide people with high-quality water in enough quantity at a low-cost price. The calculation of variants clearly indicates that stable resources of high quality water which are not dependent on climatic and political conditions, and which are capable of supplying millions of people, can only be found as ice in the colder latitudes of the globe such as Antarctica, Greenland and Alaska.
Since ancient times, the thawed water of icebergs has been called 'Alive Water'. The medicinal properties of the thawed water have been described in many scientific works, and its quality of taste is so high that it is unmistakable and unforgettable. 'Alive Water', has been a water supply option for some time. Periodic discussions about its transportation have frequently arisen in scientific and business circles. The transportation of icebergs weighing up to 100 million tonnes from Antarctica to (say) the coast of Saudi Arabia would have to take into account the following: storms and tropical typhoons, water at different depths of up to 500 m which affects the rate of thawing of the iceberg, loss of water on the way, etc.
Different possibilities for the collection of ice
It is interesting to note that an iceberg, six-sevenths of which remains submerged, and which floats 10-12 km a day, can overturn 5-6 times during its lifetime because of changes in its centre of gravity and because of undercurrents. This can happen relatively quickly, and it is for this reason that vessels are currently forbidden from going too close to the icebergs. Besides the danger involved in towing them, after every overturning of an iceberg, each new installation of tow cables would require an unacceptable cost in time and labour to correct.
During our research it became clear that ice could also be extracted in-situ in a liquid form and be delivered to the consumer. We would therefore have to seek new technologies to deliver this ice-water whilst main- taining a competitive cost price. The next step was to decide whether to transport ice or water. There are three methods of ice delivery available using today's technology:
The transportation of small whole icebergs was investigated next. This would mean designing new tools for the loading of ice, and for its transportation, unloading and storage at the destination ports. The basic technology for the treatment and distribution of water for the countries requiring has already been developed. Moreover, the cost price of this high-quality, medicinal, 'Alive Water' would be lower than that produced by nuclear freshening plants.
I would like to reassure ecologists about the possible consequences of ice production activity in Antarctica, Greenland, Alaska, etc. On the basis that an individual requires 2.5 L of water for drinking and food preparation everyday, for Ibn people a total of Ibn tonnes of ice would be needed per year, which is only 1 km3 of ice per year. If one considers that one shelf glacier in the Antarctic continent contains 20 000 km3 of ice and that the stocks of ice do not decrease because of on-going natural circulation processes, the removal of 1 km3 of ice is of little consequence — particularly if one considers the benefits to the life and health of millions of people.
To try out this new resource, we must enlist the help of a least one or more countries that require water and which are in a position to take on certain financial com-mitments.
Let us choose, by way of example, the region of the Arabian peninsula, and simulate the delivery of ice-water. The main consumer of water in the peninsula is Saudi Arabia — the most powerful and dynamically developing country of the region. Its population is growing fast and has already exceeded 20 million. On the basis of 2.5 L per day per person, the country needs 18260000 tonnes of water per year, "20 million tonnes of ice, i.e. 0.2 km3 of a glacier.
Antarctica has trillions of tons of the purest ice, formed during the ice ages. It comes in all forms and sizes. There are ice plains and ice tops, ice floes and outflowing glaciers, shelf ice and ice tongues, icebergs and sea ice. The thickness of the ice over land exceeds 4 km and the underwater portion of the ice plain extends 2 km below the sea surface. As a result of our research, and in view of the short summers in this region, our choice of suitable ice was narrowed to a shelf glacier. It has a flat surface on top where the purest ice is, and the access to it is straightforward. The minus point is that large and small ice floes and icebergs floating around the edges of the glacier are a danger to navigation.
However, from an equipment and labour point of view, there is little difference between preparing the ice on the coast or out at sea, so we reconsidered the possibility of working on icebergs which had broken off from the glacier. Of all icebergs, 60-80% are formed from shelf glaciers, and they are the largest of all, having a surface area of hundreds of thousands of km2. This facilitates the preparation of ice for transportation on the surface of the iceberg itself. Very conveniently, there is a direct route from Saudi Arabia, through the Indian Ocean to the Antarctic coast, where the shelf glacier Amery is located. Here, some of the largest icebergs break off from the glacier, which weigh billions of tonnes. It is thought that this area of the Antarctic coast is the most suitable place for organising the production of ice. In order to maintain a continuous flow of work throughout the year, selected icebergs can be kept in the shallower waters near Kergelen Island which are not frozen during the warmer months. The ice could then be loaded on to a vessel and transported to the Arabian peninsula and left to melt in the sun.
Let us imagine that once the ice had arrived at its port of destination, it is loaded on to a special trough with a transparent cover where it proceeds to flow down into a special 'ice-receiver' where it is then stored. By adjusting the access of the solar beams and hot external air we can regulate the quantity of cold water and cold air produced according to the needs of the city.
Fifty thousand tonnes of ice are capable of cooling 170 million m3 of hot air down to 20 °C.
With a fleet of 10-15 vessels, 40 000 tonnes and more of ice could be transported. 10-12 people would be needed to work on each piece of ice. The loading of the vessels would take between one and two days. The complete operation, from leaving Saudi Arabia to returning with the ice should take between 25 and 30 days.
How much would this project cost? And what would be the cost price of a litre bottle of water? It would appear to be very low. Indeed, after four months of operation, and charging 30 US cents per bottle, all expenses would be recouped. The high profitability of the project is a result of the following factors:
The most important expense of the project would be the construction of the vessels. Other expenses for the construction of a special mooring facility, stationary ice-receivers, the manufacture of containers and equipment for the production of the ice would account for only 10% of the total cost. To complete the project within 18 months to 2 years from start to finish would cost about $2bn. If the project were carried out over a longer period of time, the initial expenses would be proportionately reduced. Everything is dependent on what the priorities are as to how quickly the project is realised. It is certainly clear to the government of Saudi Arabia that the need for fresh water will grow and that there is no other available source of water equivalent to that in the Antarctic. This problem must be considered a priority. With time we will be able to develop the project further and make it as ecologically sound as possible. Let us say that the States of the Arabian peninsula, by constructing a powerful transportation fleet for millions of tons of ice, begin to deliver it to stationary ice-receivers located on the perimeter of the peninsula. By creating and adjusting man-made reservoirs near to the ice-receivers it would be possible to substantially influence the micro-climate of the area and to improve sanitation. The surpluses of thawed water could be released underground and directed towards the creation of green zones and oases throughout the peninsula.
It is my belief that multinational manufacturers of drinks such as Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola could benefit enormously from this project. It is not by chance that Scottish Whisky is made from the water of mountain glaciers and the snow tops of Scotland. By placing soft drink factories in an equatorial zone on islands and continents (for the hours of sun and climate) it will be possible to create a global production network and of soft drinks made with 'Alive Water'. For example, a vessel which is shipping ice from the Antarctic coast could unload its cargo at a factory located in Singapore and them be reloaded with ready-made drinks which it could subsequently transport to Australia. From Australia the ship could return to the Antarctic continent to ship more ice.
We are considering engaging the support of the UN, since the project should be realised under the aegis and with the active participation of an authoritative international organisation. Moreover, all questions linked to the Antarctic are adjusted by the conventions and agreements of the UN. With funding from one of the States of the Arabian Peninsula there, and given the low level of technology which would be required for the loading, transporting and storage processes, there is no reason why this project should not succeed.
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