Artificial glaciers are used to store the flowing winter water -that otherwise is wasted down the streams throughout the winter- by freezing it
The harsh mountain area of the Trans-Himalaya in the north of India is experiencing acute water shortages. Due to climate change, glaciers have been shrunk and inhabitants compete for water every spring in order to irrigate their fields. Especially in the region of Ladakh, where annual rainfall is less than 50 millimeters (2.0 in), agriculture is solely dependent on snow and glacier meltwater. In the past, people used to have a process of ‘grafting glaciers' in the very high reaches of mountains, as a way to hold the flowing winter water. But in order to keep the ice unmelt till springtime, very high altitude locations (above 4,000m), constant maintenance and a north-facing valley to shade the ice from the spring sun were needed.
Recently though, the local engineer Sonam Wangchuk managed to take this concept one step further, by making artificial glaciers which are not location-dependent, as he understood that ‘it was not the warmth of the sun that was melting the ice on the ground. It was direct sunlight.” By piping underground mountain streams, he built a 64-foot-tall “ice stupa” by installing vertical pipes which spray water into the extremely cold air, freezing into a cone of ice shaped like a Buddhist shrine. This way, the ice essentially shades itself and it can stay frozen till spring, storing water for the crop growing season.
In order to build his prototype, Wangchuk started a crowdfunding campaign in 2015, receiving $125,000 from backers. In 2016, he won a Rolex Award for Enterprise and with the winnings he is trying to establish a pan-Himalayan research university that will address the region’s environmental concerns. In the same year, he also built Europe’s first ice stupa near St. Moritz in the Swiss Alps and now, back in his region, he is laying a pipeline to build 50 more ice stupas, each of which will supply 10 million liters of water a year and irrigate 25 acres of land. The ice cones could also be rented to tourists, boosting the local economy.
Wangchuk hopes that if locals adapt now, their descendants won’t become climate refugees. “We in the mountains are minorities, not just ethnically but climatewise,” he says. “Things that work in New York or New Delhi do not work in the mountains. We have to find our own solutions for our problems.”
Source: National Geographic