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Researchers help India with artificial glaciers

Published: 28 May 2018

Researchers at Luleå University of Technology will promote water security to the farmers in the North of India , by contributing scientific knowledge to the unique attempts in the area of artificial glaciers. In April, Anshuman Bhardwaj, researcher in Atmospheric Science at Luleå University of Technology, went to Ladakh to officially launch the cooperation project and gain an initial perception of the artificial glaciers on site and the building strategy behind them.

– The artificial glaciers are huge in height. Their height varies with seasons but when I was there, they were somewhere around 20 meter tall. It was a good feeling to see that some innovative steps are being taken to try to alleviate the seasonal water shortage. The most fascinating thing for me about the Ice Stupa was not only to visually admire it, but mainly to see and understand the extreme efforts and planning that has undergone in developing them. These are initial days for such artificial glaciers but if more of them are established on the barren mountain slopes then they can provide a temporary buffer against seasonal droughts, says Anshuman Bhardwaj.

Luleå researchers help with artificial glaciers for water supply

New technique to solve water shortage

This technique, with artificial glaciers to mitigate water shortages is being implemented for the first time in the world. Ladakh is a cold, dry and deserted area in northern India, at the foot of the Himalayas and is situated at high altitude - between 3,500 and 5,500 meters above sea level. In order to grow crops in the summer months, the people living in the area are dependent on glacier water flowing down the mountains to the valleys where the crops are located. During April and May when some of the most important crops would have to grow, water shortage has become a major problem.

Now scientists want to solve the problem of water shortage by installing artificial glaciers, in the form of ice cones. Starting in the fall of 2018 and coming winter, glacier waters will be redirected from the mountains of Ladakh, via pipes to a lower altitude site. There the water is sprayed, like a snow cannon, freezing and creating a conformation, a stupa. the vertical glaciers are at two different sites in form of double cones at each site. By storing the water in these ice cones, the cultivation season can be extended by up to two months. The melting water goes down to nearby nurseries of plants and water them.

– The artificial glaciers are working as expected, i.e., growing over the winter months and melting during spring and early summer. However, there is scope to make them more sustainable so that some of the ice survives throughout the year and new winter snow gets deposited on top of it. In that way, these structures will keep on growing. It was a good feeling to see that innovative steps are being taken to try to alleviate the seasonal water shortage .I feel that in long-term and if more of such structures are developed, they may be helpful in improving the growth of some seasonal vegetables in the area , says Anshuman Bhardwaj.

 Installs environmental monitoring stations

By using terrain data, satellite data and demographic data, the researchers from Luleå University of Technology are going to identify and evaluate probable sites for artificial glacier installation. The ice stupa was invented by local Indian engineer. The goal is to install several specially structured low-cost environmental monitoring stations, developed by the Group of Atmospheric Science at Luleå University of Technology , in the area. All in different terrain and altitude conditions for year-round monitoring of meteorology and pollution. In the university’s state-of-the-art snow lab they will also study the physical properties of snow to suggest engineering structures for making the artificial glaciers more sustainable and durable.

– In this trip, I have identified the sites where in this October, we are going to install the environmental monitoring stations to understand the year round weather as well as pollution conditions at different elevations in the region. This will mainly help us to understand how increasing pollution and black carbon concentrations are promoting the rapid melting of natural glaciers in the region.  In addition in the coming years, we will also collaborate with the local team to suggest them some engineering structures which can make these artificial glaciers more sustainable. 

Contribute solutions to real problems

– Of course it’s not a long-term solution for the climate change problem in this area. The real glaciers are shrinking and when they are gone, the water will be gone. But here and now, science can really contribute to problems that this community is facing. The ice stupas are already there and doing what they are supposed to do, and now we have the opportunity to help, says Anshuman Bhardwaj.

In addition to representatives from the research group in Atmospheric Science at Luleå University of Technology, also researchers from Experimental Mechanics at Luleå University of Technology, and Professor Al. Ramanathan at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, will join the project.

Anshuman Bhardwaj

Anshuman Bhardwaj,

Phone: +46 (0)920 493975
Lydia Sam

Lydia Sam,

Phone: +46 (0)920 493820
Organisation: Space Technology, Department of Computer Science, Electrical and Space Engineering

In the media:

Atmospheric Science