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Antarctic To Cover Global Water Shortage

Many projects concern icebergs, a salient feature of polar areas, and a graphic reflection of the present state of Earth ice caps. They impede Arctic navigation, and threaten floating oil and gas derricks. Safety is a marginal problem in the uninhabited Antarctic. Another goal of iceberg studies comes into the foreground here - to use icebergs as sources of drinking water.
by Nikolai Osokin
Moscow (RIA Novosti) Jun 18, 2007
Many Antarctic mysteries have been unraveled. Just as many continue to puzzle us to this day. For instance, science has not yet calculated the Antarctic ice cap balance - that is, the ratio between the annual snow fallout and the amount of ice lost as icebergs thaw off.

An ambitious program, International Polar Year (IPY) 2007-2008, was launched last March to delve into Arctic and Antarctic secrets. It involves experts from more than 60 countries as breakthroughs in Earth sciences can be made only by pooled efforts on comprehensive projects.

Russian scientists were involved in developing the concept for the program. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the International Council of Scientific Unions approved their idea in 2004. Dr. Vladimir Kotlyakov, a prominent geographer and glaciologist, and member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, represents Russia on the IPY Joint Committee, which has drawn a unified IPY research program that includes 200 Russian projects.

The program attempts to collect comprehensive information about many aspects of the Arctic and Antarctic environment, and its wide and quick dissemination. It envisages an accurate all-round evaluation of current processes and forecasts of climatic and environmental changes. Scientists will offer recommendations on possible practical measures.

Many projects concern icebergs, a salient feature of polar areas, and a graphic reflection of the present state of Earth ice caps. They impede Arctic navigation, and threaten floating oil and gas derricks. Safety is a marginal problem in the uninhabited Antarctic. Another goal of iceberg studies comes into the foreground here - to use icebergs as sources of drinking water.

The WMO regards drinking water shortages among principal obstacles to sustainable development. Even now, one third of humanity experiences permanent water shortages. Two thirds will share the plight by 2025 if the trend persists.

Antarctic ice offers a remedy. The continent sends to the ocean several thousand cubic kilometers of crystal-clear water a year as icebergs break off to drift away. Some are mere large floes, with an area of several dozen square meters, while others stretch for several hundred kilometers. One was 160 km long, 70 km wide and 250 m thick. A large iceberg can take eight to 12 years to melt completely. Winds and currents often carry them far north, up to 40-50 degrees south latitude. Present-day technologies make it possible to "catch" small icebergs, up to 0.1 cu km, on their habitual routes and tow them to the sun-scorched African coast.

Tugs with icebergs in tow would be welcome not only to arid areas. Industry disastrously pollutes rivers and lakes in every part of the world. Current consumption makes use of only 0.01% of available fresh water. Over 70% of this valuable store is to be found in Antarctic glaciers, which consist of the world's cleanest water. An average 2,500 cu km of ice is added to them every year, while just over 2,000 cu km drifts off as icebergs - a steadily renewed source of perfect drinking water.

Snowfalls steadily feed glaciers. The bloated Antarctic ice cap, with a total area exceeding 12 million sq km and 4 km deep in the center, slowly moves towards the coast. Its weaker fragments crumble off the ice shelf, some of whose glaciers spread over several thousand square kilometers. The largest of the breakaways are 200 to 400 m thick. Each contains enough drinking water for a year's global consumption. These giants are rare. A majority of icebergs have an average length of 1 km, and are 500-600 m wide and up to 300 m thick. Several thousand such icebergs float off every year. The total volume of icebergs permanently drifting round the continent makes roughly 4,700 cu km.

There are ideas and blueprints for many ways to obtain drinking water from them. Two appear quite practicable. One envisages powerful tugboats getting smaller icebergs, up to 0.1 cu km, in tow. The catch must be wrapped in protective film for transportation to prevent the ice from thawing en route.

The other method envisages icebergs broken up just where they are found, to deliver granulated ice to the consumer by tankers.

The idea of getting fresh water from icebergs is rooted in history. The "Resolution" crew of legendary Captain James Cook collected 15 metric tons of water from thawing icebergs in 1773. At present, iceberg water is obtained in small amounts as an exotic drink.

It may become humanity's principal drink quite soon. Global water consumption grew seven-fold in the 20th century, and shortages will eventually hit even the best-developed countries. Then, iceberg water from faraway Antarctic will appear economically expedient.

Nikolai Osokin is researcher with the Geography Institute, Russian Academy of Sciences.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

Source: RIA Novosti

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Related Links
International Polar Year (IPY) 2007-2008
World Meteorological Organization (WMO)
Water News - Science, Technology and Politics

Toxic Algae Pose New Health Scare In China
Beijing (AFP) June 17, 2007
Two of China's biggest lakes are under renewed attack from toxic algae that destroy plant and fish life and threaten humans in the country's latest pollution scare, state media reported on Sunday. New satellite pictures of eastern China show the blue-green foul-smelling algae spreading in Taihu and Chaohu lakes, the Workers Daily newspaper said.

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