A new company is shipping Arctic ice from Greenland to chill posh drinks in Dubai


Patrons of glitzy Dubai bars could be sipping beverages cooled by a cube of ancient Arctic ice carved from a Greenland iceberg and shipped to the emirate — destined no longer to melt into the ocean, but into a very expensive drink.

The startup company, Arctic Ice, shipped its first container of around 22 tons of Greenland ice to Dubai this year for sale to high-end bars and restaurants. Founded in 2022 by two Greenlanders, Arctic Ice has an interesting — and controversial — business model.

It scours the fjord near the country’s capital city of Nuuk for icebergs that have naturally detached from the ice sheet.​ “We are looking for the clearest and thereby also oldest and purest ice,” said Malik V. Rasmussen, one of the co-founders of Arctic Ice.

Once they have spotted an iceberg they like, they haul it onto a ship using a crane, cut it into smaller pieces and pack it into insulated crates.

A sample of each iceberg is tested in a lab to make sure there are no microorganisms or bacteria. Then the ice is shipped from Greenland to Dubai, first aboard one of the nearly empty cargo ships returning to Europe after dropping off produce in Greenland, and then on a second ship to Dubai, where it is repacked and sold.

Arctic Ice claims it’s offering a novel way to harness a natural resource, carving out new economic opportunities and raising awareness of the Arctic.

To critics, it’s wasteful to ship a product thousands of miles on fossil fuel-powered ships when Dubai already makes its own ice.

Few people likely spend much time considering the provenance of the ice in their coke, coffee or cocktail, but it’s big business.

Ice used to be chipped off natural sources like glaciers, but that changed with the advent of machines able to mass-produce for bars and restaurants, or to manufacture the bags of cubes that lurk in people’s freezers. The market for cubes, blocks and crushed ice was worth more than $5 billion in 2022.

Various attempts have been made over the past few decades to bring back natural ice commercially, but with little success. In 2015, one company tried to sell ice cubes carved from the Svartisen glacier in northern Norway, but its plan faltered amid local opposition.

Rasmussen hopes that by targeting the right markets, he can make it work.

But perhaps inevitably for a business model that involves shipping a diminishing natural resource halfway across the world, Arctic Ice has attracted controversy.

The comments under the startup’s Instagram videos are peppered with criticism. “As if you were doing a good deed for the planet… While you are helping to destroy it!” said one. Another asked: “What is this dystopia?”

Rasmussen said the level of vitriol he has received on social media has been shocking.

“We knew there was going to be criticism but did not anticipate it to amount to death threats and constant harassment,” he said.

Arctic Ice says its operations are designed to “minimize environmental impact,” and the company has future plans including swapping out fossil fuel-run ships for hybrid or battery-powered vessels.

It also wants to remove three times as much carbon pollution from the atmosphere as it emits — though these ambitions are for an unspecified time in the future and some experts remain unconvinced.

“A great deal of energy will be required to transport (ice) to Dubai in refrigerated ships,” said Jennifer Francis, a senior scientist at Woodwell Climate Research Center.

The ice could also still be polluted by natural sources such as wildfire smoke, dust or even ash from volcanic eruptions, Francis added.

“I would file this under the category of highly energy-wasteful gimmicks that appeal to ultra-wealthy individuals,” she said. “I would wager that no one could tell the difference in taste between glacier ice and non-glacier ice.”

Rasmussen disputes this. There are advantages, he said: Ancient glacial ice has little to no taste, meaning it doesn’t affect the flavor of drinks as it melts — unlike ice made from tap water or mineral water — while its denser structure means it melts more slowly.

It’s also about the experience, he said. Giving people the opportunity to sample ice “that has never been polluted by humankind” can create more awareness about the Arctic and vulnerable glaciers, he said.

Awareness-raising could be the only upside of the business, Francis said. But, she added, “no doubt the story about how much energy was needed to bring that chunk of ice to a person’s drink will not be told.”

Others, however, have no problem with the concept of commercializing Greenland’s ice.

“There will be a lot of people moaning,” said Jason Box, a glaciology professor at the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, “but in my view, the love of the ice, the aesthetic of the shape and story of the ice, far outweigh environmental concern.”

Its fractal geometry will make it look like a tiny iceberg in a glass, he told CNN.

“It’s like fine art. It gets people talking. And of course they will feel a little sorrow for being part of the global warming problem.”

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