Iceberg tow brought up as one idea to solve region's water woes

SAN DIEGO - There is a potential delivery from the North Pole and Santa is not doing the towing.

Several weeks ago, the idea of towing an iceberg surfaced in a federal Bureau of Reclamation study on solving Southern California’s future water woes.

Iceberg tows – a short distance – are actually routine in Canada, but what about towing an iceberg to Southern California?

"The knee jerk idea is it seems like a crazy idea," said Ron Kaufmann, a professor of marine science at the University of San Diego who has spent the last seven years working on and studying icebergs.

Still, the seemingly crazy idea surfaced in a federal report as one of many ideas to solve the water shortage in the region.

One of the main issues is what would happen to that ice as it travels through warmer waters. Kaufmann says melting is only one hurdle. Other hazards include currents and waves hammering at the iceberg.

"Icebergs can develop cracks, split in half, big chunks can break off … It could flip over, potentially damage the rest of the iceberg, and damage whatever you're using to haul the iceberg with," said Kaufmann.

One man believes those hazards can be overcome. Recently, French engineer Georges Mougin, who partnered with software company Dassault Systems, has begun running elaborate 3D simulations of a tow from Canada to Africa with a tugboat and kite-sail to tap into prevailing winds.

In his plan, a floating series of poles surround the iceberg above and below, blocking waves and capturing any ice melt.

Test projects are expected in the next year, but the big barrier could be cost. Initial estimates for a tow to Africa are $10 million, but many believe that is just the tip of a very pricey iceberg project.

Federal officials dismissed the towing idea found in the study as impractical, but Kaufmann believes that could change if the test projects show the idea is feasible.

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