It is known as Little Tibet and is located in northern India. It's called Ladakh. It is a huge cold desert where 274,000 people live. People live from agriculture and animal husbandry. These activities are maintained thanks to the spring melting of the glaciers. But the global temperature is melting them. Droughts are more common. What to do? Sonam Wangchuk, engineer of the place wondered. And he came up with the idea of artificial glaciers, ice stupas.
Another engineer had built embankments at different heights near the mountains. They stored the water that flowed from the streams in winter as small dams. This created flat artificial glaciers like frozen pools. In the past, the water evaporated before you could use it. They challenged Sonam Wangchuk, who likes to call himself a "problem solver".
A new idea
After thinking many times, an idea came to him. He would build an artificial glacier inspired by a stupa, the Buddhist sanctuary so common in Southeast Asia. Thanks to its conical shape, the surface exposed to the sun would be minimal. So would it take several months before it merged?
Wangchuk started work on the first prototype of an ice stupa in 2014. And it worked. «No electricity or other energy is needed. The only force that is needed to function is gravity, "he says. It's about guiding the water that flows in winter through a pipe to where the stupa is being built. At this point, it ends Pipe with a vertical section, the moment the channel is opened and, due to the physical principle of the communicating vessels, the water shoots up and tends to reach the height of the point at which it was collected When the ice-cold night is released, the droplets under pressure freeze almost instantly, falling into an ice pyramid around a simple structure of branches and trunks.
The first ice stupa
In 2015, Wnagchuk raised $ 125,000. With the help of the entire village, he managed to build the first ice stupa in Fiang Village. It was almost 20 meters high and remained frozen until April. Then it started to release up to one and a half million liters of water for two months. It was delivered to 5,000 young poplars that forged an oasis of hope as they grew. After this success, when he received the Rolex Initiative Award in 2016, Wangchuk took on his next challenge: to build another 20 ice stupas, each 30 meters high, in Ladakh. He tried to green the desert that stretches across the foothills of the Himalayas.
But it is not only in this area that they will benefit from artificial glaciers. The invention is interested in many places in the world. Also in Europe, where he built his first ice stupa in the Swiss Alps last year. This year 2020 he will work to freeze a glacial lake in Sikkim to stop flash floods.
The beauty of this idea is its simplicity, says Wangchuk. A simplicity that, as another great inventor, Leonardo da Vinci, allegedly said, is the greatest sophistication.