How 3D Mapping Tech Could Be Used to Tow Icebergs to Drought Areas

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If you’re going to risk towing 7 million tons of ice across the Atlantic Ocean to quench the thirst of drought-stricken communities, you better have a plan. Enterprising engineer Georges Mougin, 86, is using digital imaging to map the best possible routes to get the massive freshwater deposits 3,400 miles from Newfoundland to the thirsty people of the Canary Islands in Spain, who currently rely on desalinization to handle water shortages.

At 7 million tons, an iceberg can theoretically meet the water consumption needs of 35,000 people per year.

(PHOTOS: A Greenland Odyssey)

Developed by Dassault Systems, the 3D mapping technology accounts for a host of external factors while answering three major questions:

1. Can they anticipate how much the iceberg will melt in transit?
2. Can the iceberg even be towed from Newfoundland to the Canary Islands?
3. What happens if the iceberg breaks up?

Engineers working on the project have designed a special insulating textile to help keep the icebergs from melting under the sun’s rays. The special fabric would be unfurled underwater, theoretically ensuring that at least 4.3 tons make it to its destination. The frozen landmasses are currently an untapped resource for fresh water, with some 300 to 500 billion tons of iceberg released yearly.

(PHOTOS: Giant Vanishing Ice)

There are, of course, a host of external factors that could prove detrimental to the project, but the team is making the best of predictive technologies to make sure their journey proves fruitful. Ideal icebergs will be selected using radiosounding to eliminate structures prone to fracturing, and ocean currents will be used to optimize floatation and trip time. Tack on costs like fuel, crew and equipment, and each journey runs around $9.8 million.

It’s a noble undertaking and, if successful, can possibly even be implemented in drought-stricken communities like Morocco, Namibia in Africa, western and south Australia, Chile and more.

You can watch how the simulation technology works here.

READ MORE ON TIME.COM: Just Thaw And Serve

Chris Gayomali is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @chrigz, on Facebook, or on Google+. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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