Ticking Time Bomb

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A bizarre plan to tow giant icebergs thousands of miles from the polar ice caps to drought-ridden hotspots in the Third World could soon become a reality.

Eco-entrepreneur Georges Mougin was dismissed as a crank when he first floated his plan to end drought 40 years ago.

But new computer technology has shown that his project to tap into the 'floating reservoirs' is in fact viable and affordable.

The 86-year-old first came up with the proposal in the early 1970s when he was an engineering graduate. He designed an insulating skirt to wrap around an iceberg, which could then be towed to warmer climates without melting.

Although Mougin initially received backing from a Saudi prince, experts told him that the project was too difficult and too expensive. It remained on the backburner for decades while Mr Mougin worked on other projects, including the Channel tunnel.

Almost 70 per cent of the Earth's fresh water is held in the polar ice caps, with an estimated 40,000 icebergs - weighing up to 30million tons - breaking away from ice shelves and melting each year.

After a suitable iceberg has been selected, it is lassoed by a floating belt.

An insulating skirt made from a geotextile is then unfurled, encasing the submerged section of ice mountain. The skirt acts like a wetsuit, holding in the meltwater and insulating the iceberg.

A tug, assisted by a kite sail and ocean currents, then drags the iceberg, travelling at just one knot.

After 141 days, the tug and its giant cargo arrive in the Canary Islands - a suitable holding location from where the water can be directed to drought spots in Africa.

But according to a report in the Times, French software firm Dassault Systemes approached Mr Mougin two years ago with a proposal to test out his theory.

And 3D computer simulations now show that a seven-million ton iceberg could be transported by a single tugboat from Newfoundland to the Canary Islands in less than five months without the iceberg melting.

The model showed that just 38 per cent of the 525ft-deep iceberg would melt during its journey - with plenty of fresh water remaining to funnel into drought-ridden areas.

A 30-million ton iceberg could provide 500,000 people with fresh water for a year.

Initial simulations suggested the project was unworkable after the tugboat became trapped in an eddy for a month.

But when the departure date was switched from May to June, the tugboat was able to complete its voyage in 141 days at a cost of £6million.

Mr Mougin now hopes the latest evidence will enable him to raise £2million to fund a trial run next year, towing a smaller iceberg from the Antarctic to Australia.

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