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Ice Stupa Artificial Glaciers

November 16, 2017
People in the Himalayas need water for the irrigation of their crops. Naturally, they get this water during the melting period of local glaciers. Glacial melt, however, is insufficient to satisfy the demands in early spring(April-June). Artificial ice structures can increase the availability of water for crop irrigation during this period. They are grown during the winter season preventing the water to waste away into the ocean . The Ice Stupa project is bringing these practices back from the realm of folklore for the everyday use of mountain farmers again.

An artificial glacier is built following a simple technique. Water is piped away from high altitude reservoirs(glacial lakes or streams) in winter. Further downstream, the water is allowed to “leave” the pipe. Due to gravity, the pressure that has built up forces the water to leave the pipe as a water fountain. In contact with subzero temperatures, the water fountain freezes, building a huge cone of ice. In its final form, this artificial glacier looks like a traditional buddhist building, hence the name “stupa”.

An ice stupa is needed for crop irrigation. The water contained in the stupa should therefore also be released during the “right” time of the year. To this purpose, it is also designed to conserve water in ice form as long into the summer as possible. It can then, as it melts, provide irrigation to the fields until the real glacial melt waters start flowing in June. Since these ice cones extend vertically upwards towards the sun, they receive less of the sun’s energy per unit of volume of water stored. Hence, they will take much longer to melt compared to an artificial glacier of the same volume formed horizontally on a flat surface.
  • Mountain farmers in many villages in Ladakh have adopted the Ice Stupas as a water storage technology to use the winter glacial meltwater in the high demand irrigation season of April and May. [Credit: Dadul Lobzang, Ice Stupa Project]
    Phyang, Ladakh, India India
  • Lhonak Lake, one of the largest glacial lakes in the Himalayan Range, is currently being drained to not just reduce the risks of a GLOF but also reglaciate the region using the siphoned water every winter. [Credit: Ice Stupa Project]
    Sikkim, India India