Saturday, April 22, 2017

Michael Safi - The ice stupas of Ladakh: solving water crisis in the high desert of Himalaya

It is the latest solution to an old problem in the Himalayan foothills. Despite its breathtaking scenery, life in Ladakh has always been hard. It is a desert at 10,000 feet, receiving on average just 50mm of rainfall each year. “The only reason people can live there is the glaciers,” Wangchuk says.
Each winter, titanic shelves of ice form at high altitudes and melt throughout the spring, flowing downwards into the streams that are the veins of civilisation on the mountain. Lately, that cycle has faltered.

Unnaturally high global temperatures threaten ice shelves everywhere – but researchers believe Himalayan glaciers are shrinking more quickly than any on earth. Less water is reaching Ladakh’s farms and villages, and when it does, the volume of water from the faster-melting glaciers can break the banks of streams, causing floods.

Wangchuk is not the first to try to wring a more sustainable water supply from the mountains. For centuries, inhabitants of the Hindu Kush and Karakoram ranges have practiced “glacier grafting”, chipping away at existing ice and pooling the pieces at higher altitudes, hoping to create new glaciers that can supply streams throughout the growing season. Apocryphally, villagers in the 13th century “grew” such glaciers across mountain passes to stop the advance of Genghis Khan.

More than a decade ago, another Indian engineer devised an update. Chewang Norphel earned the nickname the “iceman of Ladakh” by using a network of pipes to divert meltwater into artificial lakes on shaded sides of the mountain. The water would freeze at night, creating glaciers that grew each day as new water flowed into the basin. Norphel created 11 reservoirs that supplied water to 10,000 people... read more: