Climate change doubters may want to have a long chat with the kind people of Ladakh, a trans-Himalayan mountain desert located on the Tibetan plateau. Ladakh farmers are facing a severe water crisis due to fast melting glaciers, but they've decided to take matters into their own hands by building cone-like artificial glaciers, or Ice Stupas.
As the natural glaciers surrounding Ladakh decrease in size year by year due to climate warming, they have begun to release noticeably less water in the early spring. The glaciers then release too much water during the hot summer months, gradually growing smaller as the seasons pass. This situation is extremely alarming for the local farmers and villagers who have relied on the glacier water supply for centuries.
In January of this year, students from the local SECMOL School Campus began to work on a solution for the water shortage issue by creating artificial glaciers. The structures are called Ice Stupas for their resemblance to the traditional stupas of Ladakh and Tibet.
By the end of February, the students had created a two-story prototype of the structure, which stored roughly 150,000 liters of excess winter stream water. As far as design strategy, the cone-like structure was placed in a much smaller surface area with little sun exposure compared to ice fields formed on flat ground.
Structural design and location calculations were essential to the design: “For example one Ice Stupa of 40m height and 20m radius would store roughly sixteen million liters of water. If the same amount of water were frozen as a flat ice field 2m thick, the area exposed to sun would be roughly five times more. Therefore the sun and the warm spring winds would melt it roughly five times faster,” explained the SECMOL director, Sonam Wangchuk.
After the first prototype was proven successful, it was blessed by Tibetan monk, His Holiness Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang Rinpochey, who then requested a full scale version of the artificial glacier to green the expansive deserts around the Phyang Monastery.
To raise funds for the Phyang Ice Stupas, the villagers and the monks have kicked off a crowd funding campaign in order to bring the viable water source to the arid Phyang area. Once this project is funded, the goal is to use the Ice Stupas to create enough water to green the entire desert of approximately 1,500 acres.