DIY Glaciers are combating climate change
One scientist/engineer is now proposing the use of ice towers or DIY glaciers to help alleviate water shortages brought through by climate change.
The Himalayas form the largest area covered by glaciers and permafrost outside of the polar regions. Glacial melting is accelerating every year, with current annual retreat rates of 70 meters for some glaciers. Humanity is heating the region so fast that the mountains are changing colour before people’s eyes as the glaciers disappear. And with them, local’s only reliable water source. According to the European Geoscience Union, up to 70 percent of these glaciers could be gone by the year 2100.
(Drought brought forward by climate change)
The continued and worrying advance of global warming has brought on a number of worrying trends, one of them being the melting of glaciers high up in the Himalayan mountains. For locals, the most painful change is the new unpredictability in precipitation. A catastrophic pattern is developing for moisture at the wrong time of year. The snows used to arrive after October and build during the winter. Then, in March, the snowpack would begin melting, providing vital and timely irrigation for the sowing of the area’s barley crop. But the past decade has seen a gradual reduction in snowfall—the winters of 2012–13 were particularly dry, with serious consequences. When the precipitation does come, it arrives as rain during the harvest season, ruining what few crops the villagers have in the fields, before disappearing to lower elevations.
As the glaciers get smaller and retreat farther and farther each year, it disrupts the hydrological cycle that makes these Himalayan glaciers such an important source of freshwater for almost a billion people, their crops and wildlife down on the lower elevations.
Scientist, engineer and local teacher Sonam Wangchuk 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 melt water during the spring, which will be frozen into ice towers, these so-called “ice stupas” will be a measure to help farmers facing a scarcity of water.
Watch Wangchuk, who won the 2016 Rolex Award for Enterprise in Environment, explains the concept in this video:
The design means that it melts slower than flat, artificial ice, and during the late spring, it slowly melts and releases water, creating a new source of water for local farmers. This new found irrigation system will be used to water crops and 5,000 newly planted tree saplings. The ice ‘stupa’ lasted until early July, providing an astounding 1.5 million litres of water.
In the region, Wangchuk’s aim is to build yet another twenty of these towers, each 30 metres (98 feet) high, in different parts of this region. Wangchuk believes that ice towers are a cost-effective solution that would empower locals, as the largest initial cost is to set up the actual pipes. After installation, these towers can run themselves, providing water to residents when they need it most.
The artificial glaciers are not necessarily a long-term solution to the climate-change problems people are facing here, but they do provide breathing space for some of the poorest people to adapt.