The Wild World Of Iceberg Harvesting: Scams, Schemes, And Startups

As glaciers melt, some see a business opportunity in harvesting the fresh water to sell. Others are simply harvesting cash.

The Wild World Of Iceberg Harvesting: Scams, Schemes, And Startups
[Image: Iceberg via Shutterstock]

As climate change speeds up, entrepreneurs and scam artists alike are racing to take advantage of rapidly melting icebergs, which dump valuable freshwater into the ocean as they break off from ice caps and dwindle in size. Modern Farmer calls the phenomenon the “cold rush,” and shares how it’s bringing some questionable characters out of the woodwork.


Chief among the scam artists is Otto Spork, a former dentist who created Iceland Glacier Products, a bottled water company that supposedly sells fresh water from an Icelandic iceberg. After disappearing $20 million in investor money, Spork’s venture caved–though he is now selling his water under a different name.

Guus Backelandt, a Dutch businessman, is on the less shady side of the iceberg business. His iceberg bottled water brand, Iceberg Water, is legitimate. He produces 50,000 bottles of water each year, with up to 100,000 expected in 2014. From Modern Farmer:

But extracting water, Backelandt says, is no easy task. To be harvested, an iceberg needs to be broken into manageable pieces before it can be hoisted aboard. That often means big boats, cranes and nets. Since the early 1800s, schemes to harvest ice have cropped up, often just to die in the planning stages. Icebergs are big. Water is heavy. And the mechanical obstacles relative to the cost to extract are large–particularly if you want to move a large chunk of ice a long way.

French engineer Georges Mougin has actually created a system for towing icebergs across the world so that thirsty people can get at them (he provided us with an illustrated guide to towing an iceberg here). Mougin had hoped to begin trials of his towing technology in 2012 or 2013, but nothing has happened yet.

Droughts will unquestionably become more common in the coming years (as I write this, California is reeling from the aftermath of the driest year on record), and as the human population balloons, so will demand for water. Icebergs are an alluring option–they’re melting anyway, so why not take advantage of them?

As Modern Farmer points out, most scientists choose to focus on other water efforts, like rain capture and desalination. But if we get desperate enough, the icebergs will still be waiting (until they melt, at least).

About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.