Climate change is causing drought conditions in the United States. That’s bad.

Climate change is causing giant killer icebergs to break free and eventually melt, thus raising ocean levels. That’s bad.

The crackpot in me wonders if there’s some way to float those icebergs (made of fresh water) over to where the droughts are.

You assume this idea is economically impractical. But keep in mind that your budget for getting it done is “trillions of dollars” because that’s how much the economy will lose if we do nothing. So if you think you need a million tugboats to move each giant iceberg, don’t assume that’s out of the budget.

Ideally, you’d want to get those icebergs near the head end of a giant (wait for it) canal system that snakes through the drought-riddled United States. That way much of the iceberg water can be directed to the water tables below parched land before it reaches the warmer sea and raises sea level.

What? You say that canal system would be too expensive? Remember you have trillions of dollars to work with now because the do-nothing alternative is more expensive.

Let’s see some creativity, people. How can we get the fresh water out of those icebergs and into our sinks without raising sea levels?


[Update: Thanks to HelloWorldo for this link to a plan for floating icebergs to Saudi Arabia.]


Scott Adams

Co-founder of CalendarTree.com

Imagine if everyone read this book except you. How sad would you be?


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May 24, 2014
Of course, the problem is where do we get the energy. That was the problem to start with, really. Water ice happens to be a particuarly effective form of energy storage, if your goal is to store cold. Phase change material energy storage tends to be second only to combustible fuels for energy density. I'm pretty sure that, pound for pound, a block of ice holds more usable cooling power than a lead acid battery; and has the advantage that it's not toxic.

The original problem presented didn't really address it from the energy-return-on-investment, but it's really about energy. How much energy does it take to contruct a pipeline and pump freshwater from a water rich region to a dry region?
May 23, 2014
The Register had a great analysis on desalination http://www.theregister.co.uk/2012/05/02/water_vs_energy_analysis/

It seems to me that any serious issue can be resolved by the judicious (or extravagant) application of energy.
May 20, 2014
Why not build a semi-submersible ship that can partially sink itself, float under the iceberg(s) and float again capturing it? Similar to the Mighty Servant ships:


The ship would be similar in design, except that it would have walls so that as the iceberg melted while being transported, the fresh water would not be lost. You could have tugs corral up a bunch of icebergs and make the ship big enough to solve the drought problem economically.

I'm sure it could be done.
May 19, 2014
Building a navigatable aquaduct instead of a closed pipeline would introduce some loss to evaporation, but is that really a bad thing? Such losses would contribute to the water cycle of the region, slightly improving the rainfall going forward. Perhaps some canals are exactly what we need, some !$%*!$%*! fed canals running through Arizona might permit the region the kind of cheap transport of bulk goods, as is common in the Eastern states on navigatable waterways, as well as provide an evaporation surface that would both slightly cool the immediate area (by using the solar heat to evaporate water, thus taking both into the air by convection and wind currents) and contribute to the natural water cycle in the region. It might be worth considering on the latter point alone.
May 19, 2014
If the volume of water in these icebergs is sufficient to raise the oceans by any perceivable amount, I think we'd have a hard time preventing it getting where it wants to go (the ocean). That said, the plan of at least dragging the water somewhere useful first sounds potentially reasonable. I wonder if dragging it to a drought area in frozen form is easier / cheaper than building a pipeline from somewhere with plenty of water? At least we've built plenty of those before.

Of course, make the pipeline open top, and you would have your canals - evaporation might be a problem though, if the canal water flowed through large expanses of arid, hot terrain.
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
May 19, 2014
Half of the vegetables consumed in Europe are produced in the driest corner of the continent, a semi-desert region called Almería. There, the permanent drought have been overcome by the use of greenhouses and clever irrigation techniques. There's no need for an iceberg-ish amount of water, just a clever use of it.
May 18, 2014
It's possibly a small correction, but one a glacier breaks into an iceberg, the sea level rises immediately. The iceberg melting does not actually change the sea level.

You can try the experiment at home by putting an ice cube in a glass of water. Notice that the water level immediately rises. As the ice cube melts, the level in the glass does not change. The reason is that a floating object displaces water by its weight. Once it melts, the ice cube displaces the rest of the water by its volume. In either case, the ice cube raises the level in the glass the same amount whether or not it has melted.

All this to say, the damage has already been done by the time there is an ice berg.
+6 Rank Up Rank Down
May 18, 2014
Regarding HelloWorldo's link:
Those guys are talking about 7 metagons of ice start weight and 38% less on arrival at the canaries.

China plans a 1 megaton / day desalination plant for bejing: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/16/world/asia/desalination-plant-beijing-china.html

To replace this we'd need one of those ice bergs per week. Does the antarctic produce that much ice all year round?

And - uh - do we really want to start ice harvesting on an industrial scale? Giant ice mining operations on the coast? Using kilotons of explosives to hack off glaciers if they aren't calving according to schedule?

The antarctic is one of the very few regions that hasn't been screwed up beyond recognition until now. Do we really want to change this?
May 18, 2014
This idea was being discussed 20 years ago. The solution is irrigation and planting crops and reducing the heat island effect of cities. Fewer paved roads, wider dispersal of homes and more plants will lead to a decrease in temperatures and higher humidity which will lead to higher rainfall rates in arid regions. But you won't have a starbucks on every corner.
May 17, 2014
7eggert, that's a lovely little link. I should have been more specific. Vineyards were once common in Britain, which is usually where the name of Vine Street usually starts. They are not common, and generally not commercially successful, in Britain anymore. Grapes will actually grow just about anywhere that has any length of growing season, including where I live; but they certainly are more productive in warmer climates. I'd wager that I could find a niche wine label from Canada also, if I tried. My root point remains the same, our planet has been both warmer and colder than it is today. I fully expect that the climate will continue to get warmer for some time. That is the trend for well over my lifetime. That doesn't mean that human industry or manufacturing is the primary cause; nor if it were, that such warming is likely to be catastrophic in any timescale. The Earth is a closed system. Asteroid strikes aside, the availability of carbon and oxygen has been in the past, both much greater and much lower than it is today. At some point in Earth's history, plantlife did not yet exist, and all that carbon existed somewhere. Modern testing on plantlife tells us that increasing the concentration of CO2 in the atmostphere for a plant improves it's growth rate up till about 10%. Current concentrations are about 0.04%, up from about 0.03% since the 1950's. Yes, CO2 is a greenhouse gas; but the claims of a catastrophic shift in worldwide climates is rediculous from a scientific perspective. Humanity is quite adaptable, as is most of nature. BTW, cloudcover is a better greenhouse gas than CO2. Look up a "space refrigerator" and try and figure out why they don't work on cloudy nights.
May 17, 2014
@creighto: If the Norwegians can create wine right now, the British should have no problems.


@Kingfisher: You can't reasonably extract energy from lighting. You might however be able to extract the energy from earth's electric field if technology was more advanced.

@Scott: If you have a canal that would be capable of supporting an iceberg, you could use this canal to deliver fresh water. Maybe you can even use smaller canals and call them aqueduct.
May 17, 2014
Kingfisher, I don't think we are that far off in thinking, but you do have a very relevent fact wrong. This planet has been warmer than it is these days, provablely, less than a 1000 years ago. The Midieval Warm Period, as I already mentioned, permitted Britons to grow grapes for wine. Even another 4 degrees C probably wouldn't allow that now. As for the speed of changing climate, I suppose it depends upon what you call "fast". I wouldn't consider an 80 percentile chance of the ocean rising 3 meters within a century to be a pressing issue, regardless of what may cause it.

Brent, there is no evidence of harm. Feel free to attempt to prove me wrong, but simply referencing opinion articles on the subject doesn't count. The burden of proof is yours, but good luck; there is more hard data to show that Jesus of Nazarath was a living person (as opposed to a fictional character) than there is hard data supporting Athropogenic Climate Change (tm). And therein lies the big joke, Climate Change is the new religion, for people who don't consider themselves religious.
May 16, 2014
This canal idea is probably the worst idea I've ever seen. However, it has inspired people to write down and share some amazing ideas in responding to it. So, I guess you could say the blog has accomplished its purpose...?
May 16, 2014
Related to the Dog vs Cat intelligence blog you had a while back:

Dogs appear to have a bigger brain and more intelligence, but that intelligence is wired for social skills that cats don't have/need due to their more-solitary nature.
-2 Rank Up Rank Down
May 16, 2014
It will also be cheaper to prevent disasters like this rather than deal with thing. What 30 years of denial has done is increase the cost. One, we've missed all of the savings from free or profitable energy economy and low cost measures; two the damage already in the pipeline has increased; and three, we have failed to divert resources to better energy sources and improvements to the way we do things.

But the catch in this twofer scheme is not cost--it is the fact that the water from the melting ice will still end up in the sea eventually unless we find ways to detain it from moving through the hydrological cycle. Of course, some of it will be "wasted" which includes refilling aquifers. and some of it may enter the hydrological cycle of inland areas where it might "stay" because it is merely making up for water that no longer floats into the area in clouds or humid air. But there is no free lunch and this scheme would have to be economical on an unimaginable scale to have a real effect.

Still, it can be profitable to ship water in iceberg form. Another option is giant plastic bags. I've seen photos of this albeit on a boat-sized, not a Manhattan-sized scale.

Is it economical? Is it the cheapest option? Can it scale up? Are there better ways, such as abandoning heavily irrigated farmland in the desert for farmland abandoned in the rainy East or not destroying the climate system we grew up with as a species by flipping the global climate into a new state?

All irrigation systems have failed in the past due to toxic mineral build-up in soils. ALL. For thousands of years. If you have to purify the water for agricultural, you might as well take it from the sea directly.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
May 16, 2014
The US tried digging a 185 mile canal then gave up. Google "Grand Old Ditch". Ex: !$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*!$%
May 16, 2014
I've never quite understood the romance of Herculean (or would it be Sisyphean?) efforts to transport icebergs en masse. What is the advantage over simply going up with tankers, mining the ice from the main floe, carrying it back in repurposed mega-tankers, letting it melt in the hold, and piping it into the water supply from port?

If someone here has already suggested this, I apologize for not reading all the way through the comments.
May 16, 2014
I agree that this planet is not nearly as warm as it has been. But it is now warmer than it ever has been since modern humans evolved. That has ramifications.
I don't think we are at any real risk as a species to the effects of climate change. We have evolved into very resilient creatures that can survive (and thrive) in nearly every conceivable climate this planet can produce.
And the climate has shifted several times since our species began to spread out over the planet. We will not die out as a result of changing climates.
But there is a problem with a rapidly changing climate - it is unpredictable. We really have no idea what areas might become deserts, and what badlands might become fertile valleys. We just don't know. And that is scary to scientists. And it is terrifying to the 'powers that be'. The ground itself is shifting beneath their feet.
So the powers that be have a couple ways of coping with these changes. The short-sighted pretend that the problem doesn't exists. The optimistic pretend that something can be done to stop the change. I think both are foolish, as change is inevitable, and will soon be impossible to ignore.
The cynical embrace the change, and are doing their best to predict the change, so as to be in the best possible position for it, while at the same time pretending it doesn't exist so that they have no opposition or competition.
The truth - if there is such a thing - is that we cannot continue as we have for the last few centuries, and we cannot return to an imaginary past. All we have is the future - one that will be radically different from the one we grew up in, just as our world is radically different from the one our grandparents grew up in as a result of unprecedented advances in technology.
We have to face the possibility that we may someday soon need to largely abandon cities like New York and Los Angeles, in favor of places like Kansas City and Winnipeg, just as previous peoples abandoned great cities like Timbuktu.
P.S. I think the idea of connecting dry inland seas to the ocean is the sort of thinking we will need.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
May 16, 2014
Or you could just use desalination. It's not anything like as energy-intensive now as it used to be, or as people assume it is. This informed piece on the subject from The Register is well worth a read.

May 16, 2014
How about if we let the sun melt it, then the water gets added to the ocean, and we siphon it out in coastal areas and process it with desalinization plants. For those trillions of dollars, you could probably do a lot better by pulling the salt out of existing water, than by carting huge chunks of ice halfway across the planet.
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