Date:28 June 2017
The progression of global climate change has brought on a cascading number of troubling trends, including melting glaciers in the Himalayas. Scientist-engineer Chewang Soman Wangchuk is proposing the use of artificial glaciers to help alleviate water shortages.
As the glaciers retreat farther and farther each year, it disrupts the hydrological cycle that makes the Himalayan glaciers an important source of fresh water for the community, their crops and wildlife down on lower elevations. This has especially impacted communities living in the Ladakh high altitude desert, where freshwater is scarce.
According to the European Geoscience Union, seventy per cent of these glaciers could be gone by 2100. The changes in glacier volume can impact the availability of water with consequences for agriculture and hydropower generation.
The artificial glaciers are built in the winter using vertically placed pipes underground. These pipes shoot out unused glacial meltwater which os then frozen into ice towers also known as “ice stupas“. A stupa is a mound-like structure that houses relics and is used for meditation by Buddhists.
Temperatures in areas surrounding the mountain fall around -30 to -50 degrees Celsius. As the water shoots out the pipe it freezes before hitting the ground level. The greater the height, the quicker the water freezes. This process forms glaciers at select locations that are up to 40 m high and can store up to 16 000 litres of water.
The first prototype was built in October 2013 and was funded by crowdsourcing donations. Last year, Wangchuk was awarded a Rolex innovation grant which he will use to create the next generation of artificial glaciers.
Currently he is working on twenty such glaciers with the aim of each being up to 30 metres high.