TITANIC PLANS

There’s a crazy plan to tow an iceberg from Antarctica to fix Cape Town’s water crisis

Quartz africa
Quartz africa

An improbable idea is being floated to solve Cape Town’s water crisis: towing an iceberg from Antarctica over 2,000 kilometers to the South African city.

For much of the past year, Day Zero—when Cape Town, a city of 3.7 million will run out of water—has loomed but with restrictions such as two-minute showers and only using 50 liters of water daily, Day Zero has been temporarily postponed without a date. Officials say Day Zero could still happen in 2019.

But to prevent that reality, Nick Sloane, a marine salvage expert says towing an iceberg from Antarctica could solve the problem. The ideal iceberg would need to be one kilometer in length, 500 meters across and 250 meters deep with a flat surface. If successfully towed, melted water from the iceberg can potentially provide 150 million liters of freshwater every day for a year. While it won’t solve all of Cape Town’s water problems, it could make a huge dent and supply up to 30% of the city’s annual needs, Sloane estimates.

It’s not the first major marine project Sloane has been involved in. Back in 2013, Sloane’s team salvaged the wrecked Costa Concordia cruise ship in one of the largest maritime salvage operations ever.

To prevent premature melting while being towed, the iceberg will be wrapped in a textile insulation skirt while being dragged across the 2,000 kilometer distance over a three-month period.

But it won’t be cheap as towing the iceberg alone could cost up to $100 million—a steep price for an operation with several questions remaining over its viability. However, Sloane says his team will undertake all the risk if the move is approved by Cape Town. “We’ve got private investors standing by on the wings to fund it,” he tells Quartz. Under that arrangement, Sloane and his partners will only charge a delivery fee if the operation is successful.

So far though, the project is yet to get the green light from the city. “At the moment, they’re monitoring the winter rainfall figures,” Sloane tells Quartz. “They will decide in August if this is required or not.”

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