Ice towers.. an innovation that saves irrigation water for the driest and coldest regions in the world

The idea is to keep these ice towers for as long as possible of the year, because melting feeds the fields until the natural glacial water begins to flow.

During the summer melt season, part of the surface of mountain glaciers releases water essential to the valley ecosystem, providing the water for cities and vast industries in places like South America and India.

Water source in remote areas

Dr. Matteo Spagnolo is Professor of Geography and Environment in the School of Earth Sciences at the University of Aberdeen, in article It was reported on The Conversation website on October 29 that this melt water is also needed to provide drinking water and irrigate crops for many remote rural communities.

This includes those who live in the Ladakh Valley, a 470 km long valley between the Himalayas and the Karakoram mountain ranges, home to 300,000 people and 4,000 meters above sea level.

These areas contain an abundance of glaciers, but large areas lie within the monsoon desert region – an area with little rainfall – which means that it is very arid, because the mountains block the rain.

The Ladakh Valley is one of the driest and coldest mountainous regions in the world, where annual rainfall and snowfall rarely exceed 100 mm, and this is slightly more than the Sahara, and temperatures in winter reach minus 30 degrees Celsius.

Disappearing at an alarming rate

Severe water shortage is a major problem for those living in this cold desert, their existence depends on the success of their crops that can only be planted in a few months of the year, often irrigated by the melting water of glaciers, however, climate change over the past decades means that rivers The glaciers in the area were shrinking or completely disappearing at an alarming rate, cutting the already short growing season.

The solution to this problem is to build ice towers (Ice Stupas), artificial glaciers built to store winter water for use in the arid months of late spring and early summer, when meltwater is scarce.

Engineer Sonam Wangchuk invented the artificial rivers in Ladakh in 2013, and her idea is to preserve this ice tower for as long as possible of the year, because melting feeds the fields, until the natural glacial water begins to flow again later in the summer.

Engineer Sonam Wangchuk invented ice towers in 2013 in Ladakh (communication sites)

Looking forward to cooperation

In collaboration with Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, India, the Cryosphere and Climate Change Research Group studied 2,200 glaciers in the Ladakh region, and found that 86% of them had experienced an increase in the permanent snow line of about 300 meters over the past 42 years, and this rate has increased to 10 meters per year for the past two decades.

Combined with dry winters, this has led to frequent droughts, and is now threatening the crops that sustain life in rural communities. Unsurprisingly, entire villages are already or will soon be abandoned.

Such issues can only be resolved by governments and society working together, so a lot of hope rests on positive outcomes from COP26, but any solutions to increase the limited and now declining meltwater derived from glaciers can help. Help ensure a sustainable future for these communities.

Water is scarce in the dry Himalayan region of Ladakh and to tackle this problem the villagers have built an artificial glacier to solve this problem. ; Shutterstock ID 1296202951; purchase_order: ajnet; job: ; client: ; other:Ice towers are a partial way to offset the short-term effect of glacier shrinkage (Shutterstock)

local solutions

Locally, ice towers offer an answer – or at least a partial way – to offset the effect of glacier shrinkage in the short term. Using basic and inexpensive techniques to build a conical structure of wood and steel, then by means of gravity – rather than electricity – diverted water from nearby streams During the rainy season, spray it in the air like a fountain.

Low temperatures quickly freeze the water in a conical shape, so that the ice mass begins to grow, and the final shape resembles the dome of Buddhist shrines, hence the “Stupa” part of the name, which slows down the subsequent melting, because the surface area exposed to the sun and temperatures Warm has been reduced.

When the dry season and warmer weather arrives, the lower elevations drain quickly and there is little water left until June when glaciers provide meltwater. At this crucial point, the ice towers begin to melt, providing an invaluable source of irrigation water early in the day. The growing season, extending the crop season by a few weeks, makes a big difference in this harsh farming environment.

Ice - Stupa (Artificial Glaciers) in the middle of cold desert of Ladakh in India.; Shutterstock ID 1141856114; purchase_order: ajnet; job: ; client: ; other:These ice towers are being built near where water is most needed (Shutterstock)

More improvements

The creation of artificial ice reserves is not new, but in the past it was built in less efficient forms and at elevations in the mountains, which makes it difficult to manage. But now these ice towers are built near where water is most needed on the outskirts of villages and near their fields, and their size and shape make them particularly effective, inexpensive and easy to maintain, capable of producing millions of liters of water each year.

The researchers are now hoping to explore how best to use the towers to deal with this problem, as the project is still in its early stages, and more work is needed to improve some technical aspects, which include finding more sites in both the Ladakh region and other parts of the world. Ways to avoid water freezing in supply pipelines, how best to distribute water to many villages and other users, and by establishing long-term collaborations with local stupa ice teams and researchers.

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