Sonam Wangchuk, an engineer who lives and works in the arid Himalayan highlands of the Ladakh region of India, is helping farmers facing a water shortage due to climate change by growing “ice stupas.” By tapping into meltwaters, these “ice stupas, or artificial glaciers slowly release irrigation water for the growing season.
These artificial glaciers or “ice pyramids” are also changing the harsh mountain landscape by helping to irrigate trees and crops and create the greening of deserts. This genius method of freezing glacial meltwater is not only life-saving for its people, but it also has a religious connection. These magnificent ice towers resemble Tibetan religious stupas.
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Wangchuk teamed up with fellow Ladakhi engineer, Chewang Norphel, who created flat artificial glaciers, to create the best design for the ice stupas. In order to be workable, ice stupas have to have a minimal surface area to provide protection from the sun, particularly at lower altitudes.
The project won the Rolex Award for Enterprise which will help Wangchuk create up to 20 ice stupas, each 30 metres high, and initiate a substantial tree-planting programme on the desert near the school once the new water supply system is established.