Mimicking Nature: Man Builds Imitation Glacier

Published on January 26th, 2010 | by

The Himalayas have vertically receding glaciers, threatening water supplies that have been used for drinking water and for growing crops since the dawn of history. Exactly how much will be gone, in the next twenty years in this particular region, at this rate, is the subject of some ongoing (much ballyhooed by corporate media) scientific uncertainty, but the fact remains that local farmers in this region find that water for crops is already being lost too soon in the year.

To restore glacier-melt locally to where it is needed, an Indian civil engineer; now known locally as Mr Glacier, has built 10 imitation glaciers.

Like the invention of horizontally diverted water for farming in arid areas was 10,000 years ago, his idea is both brilliant and obvious…

Image by CortoMalteseHumans_Invent_Vertical_Irrigation
Humans reinvent artificial irrigation vertically with imitation glaciers

Artificial irrigation used to be horizontal. Diverted water has fed generations over the millennia. Now artificial irrigation needs to become vertical as well, as our glaciers recede.

Glaciers in this region of the Himalayas now form 4,000 feet above where they used to. Regional average temperatures there have risen 1C for winter and 5C for summer in the last thirty years.

Local crops had evolved over time in conjunction with glacier-melt by May. Since time immemorial, May was when ice used to melt at the lower altitude glacier that previously supplied the water that the crops needed.

But there is no longer any glacier to melt at that latitude. With the rising local temperatures, snow and rain had also declined 60 per cent in the past 50 years.

That’s where necessity prompted the  invention of glaciers.

Chewang Norphel  chose lower elevations 4,000ft lower down the valley, where the glaciers used to reach down to, but now are now too warm for large glaciers to develop.

Then he selected areas on the shady side of the mountain, where small amounts of water (like from a dripping tap) still freeze in certain shaded spots. By diverting water to those areas in the shady side, a little at a time, he was able to freeze a little at a time, and gradually build up larger and larger mounds of ice.

He did this by building a system of pipes with holes in them to gradually funnel water down into shaded pockets at the lower altitude. By adjusting the volume of water being sent down into the shaded region to freeze, depending on hourly temperatures, he was able to gradually freeze larger and larger areas.

By building these mini-glaciers where they used to have a gigantic natural supply of ice in glaciers that melted in May, (which is when the local crops had evolved to require sowing by), he is now able to ensure that his gradually built-up glaciers melt again in the same month when farmers finish sowing their crops.

Artificial glaciers created by vertical irrigation will no doubt increasingly be copied around the world, as other regions face the same catastrophe. Climate change affects some regions differently than others, making some places colder and some hotter, but on average raising global average temperatures.

The civil engineer who invented the first breakthrough of artificial irrigation in our early farming days is unknown, but Mr Chewang Norphel: the Indian civil engineer who invented the artificial glacier at Ladakh, India deserves to go down in our future history.

Source: Independent UK

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