Towing icebergs from Antarctica: Would it work?

A bold plan is in place to drag massive icebergs up from Antarctic waters to supply the United Arab Emirates with drinking water - but will it work?

The National Advisor Bureau Ltd company wants to tow up icebergs from the south and mine them for drinking water, with managing director Abdullah Mohammad Sulaiman Al Shehi eyeing up monster chunks of ice around 500m by 500m by 300m large - amounting to 75 billion litres of freshwater.

But his harebrained idea isn't new and is unlikely to work.

NIWA marine physicist Dr Natalie Robinson told Newshub while the idea is admirable, she "can't see it happening".

"I can't really get my head around even attempting this with any success at all," she said.

"The thing is they've already done a study like this back in the 80s or so, and they abandoned it because it was not achievable."

Even after icebergs break off and float away, they continue to splinter apart, so Dr Robinson said Mr Shehi could end up with thousands of bits he has to tow, rather than one mammoth chunk of ice.

And his idea that the icebergs would melt slower due to the bulk of them being underwater was inherently flawed.

"It would be several times faster melting in the water than it would be just sitting in the air, so that's a completely wrong statement," Dr Robinson said.

"Even if these things were just floating around Antarctica without having to go into warmer waters at all, they would still melt and that's even at water that's below 0degC. So as soon as you take it into water that's above 0degC it's going to melt much faster."

Mr Shehi had earlier said he and his firm had found towing to be "the best method" of transporting an iceberg, and were planning to start work in 2018 to harvest an iceberg from Heard Island and drag it 8800km to Fujairah.

But while dragging an iceberg may be something out of a movie, there's a far more simple solution Mr Shehi could try.

"They'd be better to chop it into little pieces and put it in the boat rather than tow it," Dr Robinson said.