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30 November 2016

Tackling Water Shortages with Artificial Glaciers

The first 'Ice Stupa', constructed in Ladakh, India               - Img source: Rolex Awards
In areas of the world where rainfall, and water supplies in general, turn scarce during the spring and summer months, local communities depend upon less-conventional sources such as glacial melt waters for their very survival. One such place is Ladakh, a remarkably arid location in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, situated between the Kunlun mountain range and the Himalayas.

Unfortunately, Ladakh now has a problem, and its name is global warming. Climate change has affected the surrounding glaciers to such an extent that the region suffers extreme water shortages each spring. Less water also means less food from farming, so dehydration and starvation both become very real threats.

Sonam Wangchuk - Img source: Rolex Awards
Seeking a way to alleviate this problem, local engineer Sonam Wangchuk has developed a remarkable solution. Wangchuk’s plan involves the creation of several artificial glaciers, stretching up to 100-foot tall, in the shape of stupas (a form of mound-shaped shrine associated with Buddhism). The geometric shape of these stupas will keep them frozen well into spring, providing local communities with a reliable and much-needed supply of fresh water; each of the stupas will contain an estimated 10 million litres.

The ice stupa concept has already proven to be successful, with a prototype last year providing nearly 400,000 gallons of water to a village approximately 1.5 miles away from the source. 

Wangchuk’s design works by tapping into a mountain stream or lake during the winter, when water is abundant. This water is fed via pipeline to its target destination, where pressure caused by gravity forces the water upwards, freezing into its signature shape as it falls. See for yourself below:


As you may have deduced from the above video, the concept also caught the eye of the Rolex Awards, who presented Wangchuk with a 2016 Enterprise Award. The awards, which have been running for 40 years, honour those who take on major global challenges. Wangchuk has indicated that he plans to spend his near $100,000 prize fund to construct 20 more stupas, and has an ambitious plan to “go beyond just solving [the problem], into turning it into an opportunity to green the deserts that were never greened by our ancestors.”


Sam Bonson

Sam is an aspiring novelist with a passion for fantasy and crime thrillers. He is currently working as a content writer, journalist & editor in an attempt to expand his horizons.