Artificial glacier innovation gains popularity to solve Ladakh’s water crisis in summers

The sub-zero temperatures quickly freeze the water into the conical structure, so that a mass of ice begins to grow.
People in several areas of Kargil and Leh districts in Ladakh have started creating artificial glaciers in many areas to overcome water scarcity in summers.
People in several areas of Kargil and Leh districts in Ladakh have started creating artificial glaciers in many areas to overcome water scarcity in summers.Special arrangement

Kargil: In the mountain desert of Ladakh, water has long been a valued and scarce resource. Ladakhis rely almost entirely on glacial and permafrost melt for water. However, in recent years, due to rapidly receding glaciers, water shortages in Ladakh have become more severe.

In years to come, experts expect this problem to worsen. Despite this issue, Ladakhis continue to innovate and adapt to the harsh and changing climate. Artificial glaciers (Ice Stupas) are one example of this innovation.

People in several areas of Kargil and Leh districts in Ladakh have started creating artificial glaciers in many areas to overcome water scarcity in summers.

The people of Khalamarpoo, Hundurmo, Chumikchan of Sankoo sub-division of Kargil in Ladakh Union Territory started making artificial glaciers with community involvement to create an Ice Stupa.

Besides solving the water crisis in the region, these inventive stupas have also become an important tourist attraction in Ladakh. " We face difficulties in summers when there are minimal water resources available for agriculture, thus over the years we have started creating artificial glaciers in many areas near to our fields that help us in irrigation during summer season for farming " Asgar Ali , a local from Kargil said.

The ice stupa, a kind of artificial glacier, is the brainchild of a famous Ladakhi engineer and innovator named Sonam Wangchuk, who created first Ice Stupa in 2015, taking inspiration from ancestral practices and veteran Ladakhi civil engineer Chewang Norphel’s work on artificial glaciers, Ice Stupas have been designed at various locations across Ladakh ever since.

Ice Stupa is a form of glacier grafting technique that creates artificial glaciers, used for storing winter water (which otherwise would go unused) in the form of conical shaped ice heaps. During summer, when water is scarce, the Ice Stupa melts to increase water supply for crops.

To create a Ice Stupa, pipes connect to a stream of water from higher in the mountains which flows down and cold temperatures do the rest. An artificial glacier can go up to a height of 50 to70 feet.

Using basic and inexpensive techniques, a conical structure of wood and steel is built and then gravity, rather than electricity, is used to bring water diverted from nearby streams during the rainy season, and sprayed this into the air like a fountain.

The sub-zero temperatures quickly freeze the water into the conical structure, so that a mass of ice begins to grow. The end result has the same high, narrow dome-shape typical of Buddhist shrines, hence the “Stupa” part of the name, which slows down subsequent melting because the surface area exposed to the sun and warm temperatures is minimised.

When the warmer, arid growing season arrives, the lower altitude streams quickly dry up and there is little water available again until June when the glaciers provide meltwater again. It is in this crucial window that the Ice Stupas start melting, offering an invaluable source of water for irrigation early in the growing season, extending the cropping season by a few weeks – which makes all the difference in this extreme agricultural environment.

Prominent Social activist from Kargil, Sajad Hussain Kargili said that these artificial glaciers are also called as 'Gangri' in local Balti and Purgi languages. He said that the government should come in support for creating such artificial glaciers here that will help to overcome water scarcity to a great extent here.

"At the time when the government is talking tall over the Jal Jeevan mission scheme, however, it should focus on maintaining the glaciers and preservation of ecology and environment of this eco fragile region" Kargili said.

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