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Mission Paani: Sonam Wangchuk, the Man Who Solved Water Scarcity in Ladakh Using Artificial Glaciers

File image of Sonam Wangchuk.

File image of Sonam Wangchuk.

With his Ice Stupa Project, Sonam Wangchuk and his team successfully created artificial glaciers by collecting water in Winters that helped local farmers in irrigation in springtime.

Climate change has affected the availability of natural resources of water in the cold and dry region of Ladakh. Farmers in Ladakh faced an acute shortage of water due to untimely snowfall and frozen river during winters. Lower snowfall in the past 35 years led to receding glaciers in the region that further caused water scarcity in the villages. However, one engineer and educationist, Sonam Wangchuk used his skills and determination to fight this crisis and ended up reviving the water sources in the region.

With his Ice Stupa Project, Sonam Wangchuk and his team successfully created artificial glaciers by collecting water in Winters that helped local farmers in irrigation in springtime. Artificial glaciers are a unique way of water conservation in Ladakh. The horizontal ice formation is formed at very high-altitude locations that are above 4,000 metres from sea level. They need constant maintenance and a north-facing valley to shade the ice from the spring sun. These frozen sources hold the water that keeps flowing and wasting away down the streams and into the rivers throughout the winter.

Dr Wangchuk has also devised a new model that does not get affected by factors like altitude and sunlight. In the new model, the artificial glacier is made by freezing the stream water vertically in the form of huge ice towers or cones of 30 to 50 metres in height. These structures look bear resemblance to the local sacred mud structures called Stupa or Chorten. According to the Ice Stupa project these ice mountains can be built right next to the village itself where the water is scarce. The new model of artificial glacier required minimal effort and investment says the Ice Stupa Project team. The only investment that is required is that of laying one underground pipeline from a higher point on the stream to the outskirts of the village.

The idea for the new model of water conservation created by Dr Wangchuk and his team is to conserve the tower of ice so that it lasts till summer. With the rise in temperature, the frozen stream will melt and provide water to the fields until the real glacial meltwaters start flowing in June. This model also receives fewer sun rays in relation to the volume of water stored as the ice cones extend vertically upwards towards the sun. This way the water will remain frozen for a long time and will take much longer to melt compared to an artificial glacier of the same volume formed horizontally on a flat surface.

Dr Wangchuk has won numerous accolades for his innovation and sustainable model that has tackled the water scarcity problem in Ladakh, from Global Award for Sustainable Architecture to the coveted Ramon Magsaysay Award.

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