This scientist wants to create 'artificial glaciers' to combat melting Himalayan ice (Video)

2016 Rolex Award for Enterprise
via 2016 Rolex Award for Enterprise

One scientist-engineer is proposing the use of ice towers to help alleviate water shortages caused by climate change.

The progression of global climate change has brought on a cascading number of troubling trends, one of them being the melting glaciers in the Himalayan mountains. As the glaciers retreat farther and farther each year, it disrupts the hydrological cycle that makes the Himalayan glaciers an important source of freshwater for almost a billion people, their crops and wildlife down on lower elevations. According to the European Geoscience Union, 70 percent of these glaciers could be gone by 2100.

But rather than giving up in despair, some see this threat as an opportunity to innovate. Scientist, engineer and teacher Sonam Wangchuk, born in the northern, arid highland region of Ladakh located in India, is proposing the building of "artificial glacial ice towers" that will help locals adapt to these unpredictable changes brought on by a warming climate.

Built using vertically placed pipes that shoot out glacial meltwater during the spring, which will be frozen into ice towers, these so-called "ice stupas" (a stupa is a mound-like structure to house relics and for meditation in the Buddhist tradition) will be an adaptation measure to help farmers facing acute water scarcity. Watch Wangchuk, who won the 2016 Rolex Award for Enterprise in Environment, explain the concept in this video:

2016 Rolex Award for Enterprise 2016 Rolex Award for Enterprise /via
Sonam WangchukSonam Wangchuk/Video screen capture
Sonam WangchukSonam Wangchuk/Video screen capture

Inspired by earlier ideas of flat, artificial glaciers created by Ladakhi engineer Chewang Norphel, Wangchuk further expanded on the idea in 2013 as part of a classroom project for the Students' Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh Alternative School, a school founded as part of a movement of Ladakhi youth wanting to reform the educational system of Ladakh.

The next winter, a crowdfunded, two-storey prototype of the ice stupa was built using 2.3 kilometers of pipe, using 150,000 litres of unwanted winter stream water. The design's verticality means that it melts slower than flat, artificial ice, and during the late spring, it slowly melted and released water, creating a new source of water for local farmers, some of which was used to irrigate crops and 5,000 newly planted tree saplings. The ice stupa lasted until early July, providing an astounding 1.5 million litres (396,258 gallons) of meltwater.

Sonam WangchukSonam Wangchuk/Video screen capture
Sonam WangchukSonam Wangchuk/Video screen capture
Sonam WangchukSonam Wangchuk/Video screen capture

With the award, Wangchuk's aim is build yet another twenty of these towers, each 30 metres (98 feet) high, in different parts of this water-parched region. Wangchuk believes that ice towers are a cost-effective solution that would empower locals, as the largest initial cost is to set up pipes. After installation, these towers will practically run themselves, providing water to residents when they need it most. It's an adaptation to an increasingly severe water problem, and in conjunction with a tree-planting program, could help "green the desert" of these arid highlands.

Sonam WangchukSonam Wangchuk/Video screen capture
Sonam WangchukSonam Wangchuk/Video screen capture

There's more: the innovative idea of artificial ice towers are spreading, possibly to a mountain range near you. Earlier this year, Wangchuk was invited by one Swiss municipality to construct an artificial ice tower as a winter tourism attraction, but also as a test drive for future ice towers that might alleviate the water worries brought on by retreating glaciers in the Alps.

Read more over at 2016 Rolex Award for Enterprise in Environment, Ice Stupa and watch the videos on Sonam Wangchuk's YouTube channel.

[Via: The Wire]

Tags: Glaciers | Global Climate Change | Global Warming Solutions | India

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