Jul 26, 2017

The farmers in villages near the trans-Himalayan mountain desert Ladakh in the extreme north of India hinge on the glacial melt for the irrigation of their fields of crops in spring. But due to climate change that reduced glaciers and caused rainfall and temperature to fluctuate, water from the melt doesn’t flow until summer.

This environmental scourge creates struggle for the Ladakhi villagers since “the key to human settlement in this cold desert is the art of diverting water from the streams through meticulously built canals toward deserts to grow crops like barley, wheat, vegetables and trees like apricots, apples, willow and poplar.”

nolisoli be fixture ice stupas ladakhPhoto courtesy of Stefan Walter, Rolex Awards

However, in the middle of a far northern desert in the country is an artificial glacier or “ice stupa” towering 64 feet, and it’s been changing the game for the farmers.

The ice stupa is made of water piped from streams, spouted like a fountain, freezing into a shape of a Buddhist monument. It is designed geometrically to preserve its frigid structure until late spring. And that’s when it would melt and provide water to Ladakhi villages.

The artificial glacier was invented by mechanical engineer Wangchuck Sonam. He started building it in 2015 with $125,000 raised on a crowdfunding site. The result of this prototype? A supply of 1.5 million liters of meltwater to 5,000 saplings planted by locals.

nolisoli be fixture ice stupas ladakh
Wangchuck Sonam won the 2016 Rolex Award for Enterprise. Photo courtesy of Stefan Walter, Rolex Awards

Sonam won the Rolex Award for Enterprise last year for this and will continue making up to 20 ice stupas and “initiate a substantial tree-planting programme on the desert near their school once the new water supply system is established” with the funds he got from this award.

Aside from ice stupa, Sonam is also known for founding Students’ Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh and designing its campus that runs on solar energy and uses no fossil fuels for cooking, lighting, or heating.


Header image courtesy of The Guardian

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TAGS: artificial glacier climate change Himalayas ice stupa india innovation Ludakh nolisoliph