Iceberg Water Is a Thing and We’re Asking “Is It Green?”
The world loves its bottled water and is willingly investing in this billion-dollar industry year after year. In the United States, the bottled water market managed to top the soda market, turning water into the best-selling drink in 2016. However, is America’s $14.2 billion water market ready to welcome luxury iceberg water at $100 a bottle?
If we look at the latest news, bottled water made from icebergs is not a new thing – at least not for those with a penchant for high-end products. In fact, the iceberg water story began quite a few years ago. Today, it is one of the most luxurious products on the planet. Iceberg water is rare, exclusive, posh, and pristine – but is it really worth the effort? Is the planet paying a price it cannot afford so that a selective few can indulge in its pure aroma? Let’s dive in.
Take Your Winter Gear because we are taking a Trip to the North Pole and Back in Time
Earth, tens of thousands of years ago: pure snow was falling from the sky, turning into pristine ice, untouched by impurities. Then other snows fell, trapping the unspoiled snow into ice layers. Snowfall after snowfall, these deposits of crystal-clean ice formed the glacier strata. They slowly moved towards the center of the glaciers and remained there, untouched, since the dawn of time.
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Glaciers sometimes break off into icebergs – large chunks of ice that travel away from the glacier, drift together with ocean currents and eventually melt. Some of these icebergs contain the immaculate layers of ice that fell in a time of still purity. These drifting pure icebergs represent today the source of what we call iceberg water.
How Do They Collect Pure Iceberg Water?
As you can imagine, not all icebergs are eligible for harvesting. In fact, there are only a few places on the planet where icebergs are suitable for this type of operation: the remote arctic coasts of the Svalbard Archipelago, western Greenland, and eastern Canada.
The Svalbard archipelago is at 1000 kilometers away from the North Pole, in between Norway and the North Pole. Annually, entire walls of ice detach from the Canadian Arctic and travel south for years before melting into the ocean. Western Greenland is one of the most remote, virgin, and cold places on Earth. Large icebergs floating in the ocean and endless plateaus of ice and snow dominate the landscape.
You can imagine easily why these areas have sparked the attention of the ones looking for the purest water on Earth. However, not every single iceberg in Svalbard, Greenland or Canada represents a good source of pure iceberg water.
The iceberg harvesting is a difficult, dangerous and sensitive process. We will see next how temerarious adventurers make it possible to turn icebergs into the pristine bottled water that is now the latest and hottest trend in luxury markets.
How do They Harvest Icebergs?
Imagine a frightening wasteland of arctic waters and massive chunks of ice able to sink the Titanic. Not many people realize this, but iceberg water is one of the most technically challenging and physically hazardous types of bottled water to produce. This is one way to understand the rarity and the exclusive price of this lux product.
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Harvesting iceberg water can literally kill the ones who venture that far in the north. Icebergs can flip, thus sinking the boat. Others are mischievous and show only their tips above the water surface, while their colossal bodies can cause tremendous damages.
Specially equipped boats and well-trained people manage to navigate these dangerous areas in order to lift tons of ice blocks out of the sea and carry them to shore for rinsing, melting, and bottling. More importantly, only a small part of an iceberg is suitable for melting into bottled iceberg water.
How do They Select the Right Icebergs?
In order to be eligible for water harvesting, the icebergs must never have melted and refrozen. Only experienced and trained gatherers can make the difference between ice layers formed tens of thousands of years ago and layers spoiled by impurities and pollutants. Gatherers never collect icebergs that come from the bottom or side of the glaciers, as they are more likely to have collected sediments and impurities.
Iceberg gathering also meets the challenge of the weight of the ice chunks and the logistics behind transporting these chunks to the shore without spoiling them on their way back. For these reasons, gatherers can only harvest a limited quantity of iceberg water on an annual basis.
But how did Iceberg Water Become Popular in the First Place?
Back in 2013, Wall Street businessperson Jamal Qureshi visited the Svalbardi Archipelago. This expedition to one of the northernmost communities in the world would have remained just an adventure if Quareshi had not brought back melted iceberg water as a gift for his wife.
Upon tasting this water, the couple remained in awe. According to Quareshi, the water has the taste of “snow and air”. As a seasoned businessperson, Quareshi quickly understood he had struck gold. He went further, tested the iceberg water in independent laboratories, and found that the water was indeed remarkably pure: it contained no traces of contaminants. He then showed the results to the Norwegian government and received approval to harvest this newfound pristine water.
Another witty entrepreneur, Ron Stamp, has been working with icebergs since the 90s. In 2010, he cracked the world of high-end-water market with a novel product: iceberg water. His company now produces luxury iceberg water from icebergs dating 15,000 years ago.
Harvesting Iceberg Water Is No Easy Feat
However, both entrepreneurs face the same challenges: the dangers of the iceberg harvest, the narrow selection of icebergs that can become bottled iceberg water, and the small market niche they strive to conquer. To this, we could also add the people who are trying to boycott the company as they feel icebergs should not be tampered with.
In an attempt to conserve the environment, the Norwegian and Canadian governments have imposed a set of rules. For instance, Quareshi can only collect 15 tons of ice a year and produce 13,000 bottles at a time. Stamp’s company can only produce about 600,000 cases of water per year. Taken together, these two brands do not even make the smallest fraction of the bottled water market, which sells tens of millions of cases each year.
Both water brands – although there are others – made the news because they are mineral free, with no nitrates or pollutants. Svalbard uses only micron filters and UV light to preserve the water’s natural composition and pure taste.
Ron Stamp’s brand iceberg water – Glace Rare Iceberg Water – also goes through independent testing for impurities and mineral levels. It is also very rare, dangerous to produce, and expensive.
The Ecological Dilemma
When it comes to iceberg water, the issue does not lack its fair share of controversy. On one hand, critics claim the luxury iceberg water is a dangerous and irresponsible venture. The argument is that the ugly side of capitalism would sell $100 bottles of pure water to cater to the 1%. During this time, 663 million people on the planet currently live without safe water.
The counter-argument comes from the iceberg harvesting process itself: harvesting icebergs utilizes a resource which otherwise would go to waste and contribute to global sea level rise. Moreover, science found that drifting loose icebergs damage the fragile polar seafloor marine environments. The massive icebergs scraping the seafloor endanger the marine biodiversity.
Both entrepreneurs we mentioned above are quite environmentally aware. Svalbard, besides being a small and remote community in the wild north, also hosts the global center for climate change research. When people buy a bottle of Svalbard they also contribute to the archipelago’s Global Seed Vault – the world’s deposit of every variety of seed on the planet.
The Vault’s role is to ensure that humanity will still have access to crops even in the case of natural disasters caused by global warming. Moreover, Svalbard is carbon certified as a company and harvests the icebergs in sustainable manners that help the environment.
Ron Stamp also took the environmental matters seriously. He built a foundation in order to research and promote new technologies of iceberg water. Thus, he managed to capture an alternative sustainable source of water for countries and regions that do not have clean and safe water resources.
This is a new take on the infamous 1%. Iceberg water sales managed to contribute to an ecological cause and we’re saluting their spending habits.
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