Where do you get your water? For most of us, rain falls, filling rivers and reservoirs. In some areas, such as the Ladakh Valley between the Greater Himalayan and Karakoram mountain ranges in a territory of India, natural glaciers are a main source of fresh water. But the valley is extremely cold and dry. It receives less than a half inch of rain and snowfall each year. That’s not enough to meet human demands.
So researchers from the University of Aberdeen in Scotland hope to help. Their idea? Creating artificial glaciers.
During the summer melting season, glaciers on mountain ranges send water to valleys below. But drier winters and shrinking glaciers create frequent droughts, threatening life-sustaining crops.
The researchers are studying “ice stupas.” These man-made glaciers store winter water for use in late spring and early summer. Engineer Sonam Wangchuk invented stupas in Ladakh in 2013. The name comes from their high, narrow, dome shape, similar to Buddhist shrines called stupas.
So just how do build-your-own glaciers work? It starts with a tube of wood and steel. Gravity brings water through a pipe from nearby streams during the rainy season. Water is sprayed into the air through the tube like a fountain.
Sub-zero temperatures quickly freeze the water into a conical structure. A mass of ice begins to grow. The shape slows melting because the surface area exposed to the Sun and warm temperatures is minimized.
When the warmer growing season arrives, streams dry up. There is little water available until June when the glaciers provide meltwater again. The window in between is when the ice stupas start melting. That water source makes a big difference for farmers in this agricultural environment.
The researchers are looking for better ways to avoid frozen water in the supply pipelines and to distribute water to villages.
Artificial ice reserves aren’t new. But in the past, they were built in less efficient shapes. They were also constructed much higher up the mountains. Today’s ice stupas can stand nearer the villages and fields where water is needed most. Efficient, inexpensive, and easy to maintain, the stupas can produce millions of gallons of water each year.
The Ladakh ice stupa project inspires others around the world. A group in Chile’s Cajón del Maipo region plans to build 50 stupas. Project engineer Roberto Lara says those could supply a community of 100,000 people for three months.
By the breath of God ice is given, and the broad waters are frozen fast. — Job 37:10
Why? Life has many challenges, but God grants humans the abilities to develop creative—and sometimes surprising—solutions.
Pray: For those who lack access to water and those who seek solutions. Pray also for those who need the living water that only Jesus gives. (John 4:14)