A Very Unique Solution to Water Shortage. Can We Do It?

Colorado Rocky Mountains – Photo by Mike Kit

Much of the melting water from the Rocky Mountain West’s snow-pack is disappearing instead of flowing down into the Colorado River as it has in the past. The video below shows how an innovative solution in India is capturing water from glacier melt and using it to supply water to villages, preventing drought. Could this project be adapted to provide a direction for American scientists and engineers looking for solutions to water shortage problems?   

‘All life depends on snow in Ladakh, with the high-altitude desert region receiving only 50mm of rainfall a year. Agriculture relies mainly on the water that comes from snow and glacial melt, but with rising temperatures and changing weather patterns, most villages in the area are experiencing severe water shortage. Since 1980, the average temperature has increased by more than two degrees, with a huge effect on the local environment. The glaciated area in Ladakh has been lost, meaning that glaciers are much smaller and, in some areas, have disappeared altogether. Sonam Wangchuck, the engineer that initiated this project, has been on a mission to help villagers adapt to the changing climate through his ice stupa concept. The ice stupa builds upon a simple idea of directing glacial melt, or water, traveling downstream through a pipe to a location nearby. This water is then channeled vertically, freezing and forming cone-like structures in temperatures reaching minus 20 degrees Celsius (minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit).” Wangchuck explains what happens next in the video.

A glacier-saving version of this project was launched in Switzerland in February 2021. Matthias Huss, a glaciologist at the Federal Institute of Technology ETH Zurich, worked on a study into the impact of the first such glacier rescue project of its kind in the world at the Morteratsch glacier in the Bernina region of canton Graubünden. Named the “MortAlive” project, its idea is simple: as long as the ice is covered with snow, it cannot melt. Snow has a higher reflectivity than bare ice, so the sun’s rays are reflected back and do not affect the melt. Artificial snow can slow down the melting of a glacier but this does not stabilize the glacier and the projects are costly. Most scientists seem to agree on one theory, “The only way to save glaciers is to stop global warming.” For the immediate present, this “ice stupa” rescue model offers the local communities and villagers a modest hope that life as they know it will not be destroyed.

Earthrise – Ladakh’s Ice Stupa Project

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