Iceberg to be Transplanted to Middle East Desert: A Fulfillment of Isaiah’s Prophecy?

July 17, 2019

5 min read

An ambitious project to bring icebergs from Antarctica to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has been labeled ‘science fiction’ by some but the Biblically inclined see it as one possible incarnation of Isaiah’s improbably prophecy that in the end-of-days, the deserts will bloom

Buying ice from Eskimos

In an interview with Euronews’ Inspire Middle East TV show, Abdulla Alshehi, managing director of National Advisor Bureau Limited, announced that the company was ready to move forward with its plans to tow icebergs from Antarctica to the Fujairah coast in the arid UAE.  The first preliminary test in which a tug boat transports a relatively small iceberg to Cape Town in South Africa or Perth in Australia for water harvesting is slated to take place later this year.

Still cheaper than desalinization

The test will cost around $60-80 million while the full project to tow an iceberg 5,500 miles to the UAE is estimated at $100-150 million. The company is still raising funds for the project. Despite the cost, Alshehi claimed to import icebergs was cost-effective.

“It will be cheaper to bring in these icebergs and utilize them for freshwater rather than utilizing the desalination water,” Alshehi was quoted as saying. “Because desalination plants require a huge amount of capital investments.”

A lot of H2O

Generally, the weight of icebergs ranges from 100,000-200,000 metric tons. An iceberg of that size can contain almost 20 billion gallons of fresh water. This would be a huge boon to the UAE which receives just four inches of precipitation annually.

In an interview with The National, Alshehi assured the public that the project was realistic.

“People before were skeptical that people would fly in the sky, now it is a reality, they were skeptical people would visit the moon. Science has advanced and knowledge has advanced tremendously,” Alshehi said. “This is not science fiction, it will be a reality. It is easier to tow an iceberg than to fly in the sky. With new projects, there will always be negative people.”

Letting the ocean do all the work

Since the majority of the iceberg is underwater, towing one, especially over such distances, seems impossible but Alshehi had a solution. He said that the bulk of the effort would be accomplished by the tugboats guiding the iceberg into serendipitous ocean currents.

“The iceberg will be huge in size and weight,” he said. “No vessel in the world could tow it; we are talking about millions of tonnes here. So we will be utilizing the ocean current to help us move these gigantic icebergs.”

Watch: UAE bringing Iceberg from Antarctica to Mid East (courtesy: screenshot)

The trips are planned for the winter months in order to benefit from the colder weather but Alshehi estimated that the iceberg would still lose one-third of its mass in transit.

Possible solutions

Though towing an iceberg is a daunting task, the problems do not end there.  One solution would be to wrap the entire iceberg in non-porous material, collect the water as melts, and then pump it to land. Another option would be to mine icebergs in situ in order to transport the shavings in a large vessel or tanker, a solution Alshehi claims is cost-prohibitive.

A greener outcome

In addition to providing water, the company hopes the introduction of the icebergs will have an impact on the environment. In a press release, they claimed that melting icebergs will release freshwater into the Arabian Sea in a manner intended to “rebuild ecological balance, reduce seawater salinity caused by brine discharge from desalination plants and restore biodiversity.” The UAE currently receives much of its potable water from desalination.

A meteorological revolution

The company also claims that cold air from the iceberg parked off the coast could change the climate of the desert nations, generating year-round rainstorms. 

The investors also hope the unusual feature will become a tourist attraction.

The project evokes images of deserts blooming in the manner described so vividly by the Prophet Isaiah.

The arid desert shall be glad, The wilderness shall rejoice And shall blossom like a rose.” Isaiah 35:1

I am about to do something new; Even now it shall come to pass, Suddenly you shall perceive it: I will make a road through the wilderness And rivers in the desert. Isaiah 43:19

A Torah expert weighs in

Rabbi Shaul Judelman, former director of the Ecology Beit Midrash, a religious study group focused on the environment as it is treated in classical Jewish sources, considered both the ecological and the Messianic implications of the iceberg project. His ponderings left the rabbi with more questions than answers.

“When God told Isaiah that the deserts will bloom, was he referring to deserts around the world or just in Israel?” Rabbi Judelman asked. “Is bringing an iceberg part of the prophecy? This is an engineering project. Is the prophecy something that we do or something that God does? Is it a reward or a mission? Is it something that precedes the Messiah or does the Messiah bring the rain?

He noted that the deserts blooming could be linked with the ingathering of the exiles. 

“ A desert is defined as a place where people do not live,” Rabbi Judelman said. “The people coming back to Israel also bring life to the deserts, no less than the rain.”

Ingathering of exiles equals water

He also noted that in the daily Jewish prayers, the prayer requesting rain directly precedes the prayer requesting the return of the exiled. Empirical evidence of a correlation between aliyah (immigration to Israel) and rainfall in the Holy Land was investigated in an article in BIN last year, indicating that in fact, years of bountiful rain do precede years of increased aliyah.”

“Does the prophecy mean that the end-of-days will signal the end of deserts entirely?” Rabbi Judelman asked. “That would be a shame since every environment has its own special ecosystem.”

Ulterior motives?

“Unfortunately, a lot of times, men set out to do good and the results are actually damaging. This is especially true when it comes to environmentalism. A lot of the results depend on the true intentions. I want to know why they are really bringing the iceberg. Drinking water is a real need. If they are doing it for that reason then a blessing will probably come out of it. But is this the best way to provide drinking water. There are a lot of factors in that decision. If they are doing it for money then it may not bring a blessing. If they are doing it as some sort of engineering challenge or business enterprise without really considering the environment, the results could be disastrous.”

The UAE Icebergs Project aims to tow icebergs to Fujairah and is part of the Rub’ El Amer (Filling The Empty Quarter) projects, designed to transform the Empty Quarter deserts into gardens, including the Khalifa River Project, designed to connect Pakistan’s rivers to the UAE through undersea pipelines.

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