Tow-an-iceberg plan being floated to ease Cape Town drought

Maverick salvage expert Nick Sloane, the brains behind the tow-an-iceberg scheme, says the idea sounds crazy, but it will sort about 20 to 30 percent of Cape Town’s annual water needs. (AFP)
Updated 03 July 2018
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Tow-an-iceberg plan being floated to ease Cape Town drought

  • Earlier this year, Cape Town came within weeks of shutting off all its taps and forcing residents to queue for water rations at public standpipes
  • To tackle the drought, Cape Town has enacted measures ranging from building seawater desalination plants to issuing strict instructions to only flush toilets when necessary

CAPE TOWN: It is a plan as crazy as the situation is desperate — towing an iceberg from Antarctica to Cape Town to supply fresh water to a city in the grip of drought.
Earlier this year, Cape Town came within weeks of shutting off all its taps and forcing residents to queue for water rations at public standpipes.
The cut-off was narrowly averted as people scrambled to reduce their water usage and Autumn rains saved the day. But the threat is expected to return to the coastal South African city again next year and beyond.
“The idea sounds crazy,” admits maverick salvage expert Nick Sloane, the brains behind the tow-an-iceberg scheme. “But if you look at the fine details, it is not so crazy.”
Sloane suggests wrapping the iceberg in a textile insulation skirt to stop it melting and using a supertanker and two tugboats to drag it 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) toward Cape Town using prevailing ocean currents.
The iceberg, carefully selected by drones and radiography scans, would be about one kilometer in length, 500 meters across and up to 250 meters deep, with a flat, tabletop surface.
Melted water could be gathered each day using collection channels and a milling machine to create ice slurry — producing 150 million liters of usable water every day for a year.
Sloane’s idea might be dismissed as mere fantasy.
But the 56-year-old Zambian-South African has a reputation for taking on the impossible after he re-floated the giant Costa Concordia cruise ship that capsized in 2012 off the Tuscan island of Giglio, killing 32 people — one of the world’s largest and most complex maritime salvage operations.
“Icebergs are made of the purest freshwater on earth,” the founder of Sloane Marine Ltd. said earnestly.
“Thousands break off every year. Mother Nature has been teasing mankind with this for a long time, saying ‘this is here’.”
He estimates it would cost $100 million (€86 million) to haul an iceberg on a journey that could take up to three months, and another $50-60 million to harvest the water for one year as it melts.
“In Russia, they have pushed (icebergs) away from oil installations — but small ones, they are about half-a-million tons. (Here) we are talking about 100 million tons,” said Sloane.
To tackle the drought, Cape Town has enacted measures ranging from building seawater desalination plants to issuing strict instructions to only flush toilets when necessary.
But whether Cape Town authorities will be persuaded to embrace the iceberg project is unclear.
“At this stage it appears to us that in fact the groundwater or desalination options are cheaper or at least equal cost price,” said Cape Town’s deputy mayor, Ian Neilson.
There are also questions on how the water from the iceberg will be channeled into the city’s distribution system.
Another problem is that there is no guarantee that by the time the iceberg is hauled to Cape Town, it will still be able to produce the promised volumes of water.
Sloane’s plan is to tow the giant iceberg some 150 km further north to South Africa’s St. Helena Bay, where the cold Benguela Current keeps water at around zero degrees Celsius.
Once there, the iceberg could be anchored in an old submarine channel, suggests Sloane.
As the iceberg melts, water will be collected each day, pumped into tankers and driven to Cape Town.
“It won’t sort out Cape Town’s crisis, (but) it will be about 20 to 30 percent of their annual needs,” said Sloane.
“The project is crazy — no question,” said Olav Orheim, a Norwegian glaciologist with four decades of experience who is working on a similar project for Saudi Arabia.
Never has such a large iceberg been towed — indeed, the towing of ice to supply drinking water would be a first — and it is unknown if it would withstand ocean currents or simply fracture in transit.
But, said Orheim, it was no longer unrealistic “because we know so much more now than when we started this kind of research 40 years ago.”
“It is a high-risk project, but also (one) which may have a very high reward at the end,” said Orheim.
For Wolfgang Foerg, the chief executive of Swiss company Water Vision which has teamed up with Sloane, the project has huge potential in the face of ever more frequent drought.
As for Sloane, he is ready for the green light.
“If they tell us to go now, we can have it here by Easter (2019),” he said.


Why ‘Gone With the Wind’ eclipses both ‘Avengers’ and ‘Avatar’

Updated 18 min 31 sec ago
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Why ‘Gone With the Wind’ eclipses both ‘Avengers’ and ‘Avatar’

  • The $402 million taken in by “Gone with the Wind” after its 1939 release places it in a paltry 285th position in raw dollar terms
  • That compares to $2.7902 billion for “Avengers: Endgame,” which this weekend just squeaked past the “Avatar” total of $2.7897

NEW YORK: Even as Disney confirmed Sunday that “Avengers: Endgame” had become the top-grossing movie ever, film historians noted that “Gone With the Wind” still has a strong case for being the most successful film of all time.
The $402 million taken in by “Gone with the Wind” after its 1939 release places it in a paltry 285th position in raw dollar terms. But that ignores the huge role of price inflation over time.
The epic historic romance, set during and after the US Civil War, sold the enormous 215 million tickets in the United States, far and away the record in that category, according to the Internet Movie Database. It’s box office was boosted by seven national releases between 1939 and 1974.
“Gone with the Wind” would have sold $1.958 billion worth of tickets today in the US market alone, based on what the National Association of Theatre Owners says was an average US ticket price in 2018 of $9.11.
Worldwide, and with inflation taken into account, the film would have taken in a stunning $3.44 billion, the Guinness Book of World Records has estimated.
That compares to $2.7902 billion for “Avengers: Endgame,” which this weekend just squeaked past the “Avatar” total of $2.7897.
Consider also that the US population in 1939 was a mere 130 million, roughly 200 million less than today.
For some, however, the success of the epic film — it runs three hours and 58 minutes — is troubling.
With a story line based on the novel by Margaret Mitchell, some historians see it as one of the most ambitious and successful examples of Southern revisionism.
Immediately after the Civil War (1861-1865), there was a broad push in the US South to cast the formerly slave-holding region in a softer light.
Those purveying the so-called “Lost Cause” ideology insisted that the Southern states had fought not to preserve slavery, but because the North was infringing on their political independence.
Yet in their declarations of secession from the Union, the Southern states were clear about their primary motive: the Northern states’ refusal to extradite escaped slaves and their “increasing hostility... to the institution of slavery,” as South Carolina’s declaration stated.
“Slavery is not even a critical issue in the movie,” said Kathryn Stockett, author of “The Help,” about black maids in the South in the early 1960s.
“You have these African-Americans that are working for these white families, and it’s as if it’s just their job... something they chose to do,” Stockett says in the documentary “Old South, New South.”
For Randy Sparks, a Tulane University history professor, “Gone With the Wind” exemplifies the way Southerners were able to impose their version of events.
“There aren’t many cases in history,” Sparks said, “where the losers write the history.”
It was thanks to “Gone With the Wind” that in 1940 Hattie McDaniel, who plays Scarlett O’Hara’s faithful slave “Mammy,” won the first Oscar awarded to a black actress.
But racial segregation was still deeply rooted in Hollywood, as in many parts of American society, and on Oscar night McDaniel had to sit at a small table in the rear of the famed Cocoanut Grove nightclub in the Ambassador Hotel, far from the film’s big stars, Vivian Leigh and Clark Gable.
Producer David O. Selznick had to intervene personally to secure her a room in the Ambassador, which refused to admit black customers until 1959.