Man-Made Glaciers Could Fix the Himalayan Water Crisis
(Bloomberg Businessweek) -- High in Ladakh, India, in a stretch of the Himalayas bordering Pakistan and China, subsistence farmers and tourists experience something akin to an alpine desert. Less than 4 inches of rain fall in an average year, making it tough for farmers to irrigate their barley and potatoes. Yet, thanks to Sonam Wangchuk’s novel system of pipes, glaciers are growing there. Each of Wangchuk’s 90-foot-high ice stupas, named for the moundlike Tibetan structures that dot the region, slowly provides the area with 2.6 million gallons of freshwater runoff, drawn from moisture in the air. He’s setting up more across the Himalayas and in the Swiss Alps.
How It Works
Inspired by a chunk of Himalayan river ice he saw that lasted well into summer, Wangchuk, a 51-year-old engineer who grew up in the mountains, built his first glacier in 2013. He uses cheap corrugated pipes to channel water from glacial streams and pump it into the freezing air around a frame of wire and tree branches. “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” he says.
Applications and Next Steps
● With help from student volunteers at the college where he teaches, $125,000 raised on Indiegogo in the project’s first year, and the blessing of the Dalai Lama’s No. 2, Wangchuk went from making 5 glaciers a year to 20. A $100,000 Rolex Award for Enterprise he won in 2016 has also helped the project expand.
● The Swiss skiing village of Pontresina, which abuts the receding Morteratsch Glacier, says its series of 64-foot-high stupas have helped compensate for reduced runoff and become tourist attractions in their own right. Wangchuk is in talks with the Swiss government to add more in the region.
In Ladakh the median annual income hovers at $600. This year, Wangchuk has raised more than $1 million to create a small Himalayan university specializing in climate research in partnership with Palo Alto’s Institute for the Future and Indian multinationals Essel Group and Jain Irrigation Systems Ltd. He’s looking next to the Andes.
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