Wednesday, December 14, 2016

A Climate Change Adaptation: Ice Stupas in Ladakh by Sonam Wangchuk

Ice Stupa Glaciers - Receding Himalayan Woes - by Sonam Wangchuk

Wangchuk has developed, tested, validated and is now building a solution for the melting glaciers of the world - an idea which has the potential of being the next billion dollar startup. However, Wangchuk is not interested in the monetary potential of the idea, but in the dual solution it offers to the dry mountain regions of Ladakh and the world. "Due to fast melting glaciers there is an erratic supply of water in the region. During the winters the glaciers melt away into the streams leaving no water in the spring time for irrigation. At the same time, these melting glaciers have the propensity to cause floods," Wangchuk says explaining the problem. 

Terming it a man-made solution to counter man-made climate change, Wangchuk is going to create artificial glaciers by refreezing the fast melting natural ones. Called Ice Stupas, these artificial glaciers store the water in the form of ice form during the winter months, which then starts to slowly melt during summers, in time for irrigation. 

Explaining how he creates the Ice Stupas, Wangchuk says he uses simple principles of science to get things done. Melted water from the glaciers running into streams is carried to the fields through long pipes dug six feet deep into the ground. This water then gushes out from the ground into the open because of gravitational pressure, and the moment it comes into contact with the chilling climate of Ladakh the water instantaneously turns into ice. 

Wangchuk installed the first pilot Ice Stupas in 2014 to test the technique and the resilience of the solution. These were 64-ft tall structure which incidentally, claims Wangchuk, also broke the Guinness' world record of the biggest man made ice structure. Built through January to February, the pilot Ice Stupas lasted till July. Wangchuk and his team recently built an Ice Stupa in the town of St. Moritz in Switzerland, after receiving an invitation from the Swiss authorities. While the Swiss project was executed to act as a tourist attraction, Wangchuk claims the government is interested in building more stupas in 2017 to counter the challenge of melting glaciers in the Swiss Alps. 

The technique has received appreciation from many quarters and its use has been diversified. The technique used to siphon out the water from lakes formed by glaciers can be used to avoid dangerous floods like the one which devastated Kedarnath in 2013. Wangchuk was invited by the Sikkim government in 2016 to help reduce the water level of a lake formed by the melting of the Lhonak glacier and which posed an increasing risk of flooding. 

"During pilots you experiment with a lot of things to create the perfect solution. We also lost the majority of the money raised in buying pipes from a manufacturer in Jammu who sold us faulty pipes most of which burst during transportation itself," relates Wangchuk. This setback would have crushed the project if it was not for the charitable spirits of Jain Irrigation who supplied new pipes free of cost and which the Indian Air Force airlifted free of charge to make the project a reality. "The next 40-50 years, artificial glaciers and dealing with lakes forming out of melting glaciers is going to be a huge opportunity and we want to help people by sharing this technique," says Wangchuk.