The World’s Next Megaproject – Artificial Glaciers

  • 06.12.2022
  • Furturist Speaker

In the future, we’ll need to rely increasingly on technological breakthroughs to create systems that move water from where it is to where it needs to be and to get it there when it needs to be there. Agriculture, transportation, manufacturing processes, municipalities, and more are counting on it.

Conservation and smart development are important, to be sure, but those alone won’t solve the fundamental issue of getting water where it needs to be.

We can no longer sit back and accept as fate that there are beautiful rolling rivers coursing through certain areas of our country – the Columbia in the Pacific Northwest, for example – while the Mississippi River becomes a muddy expanse.

Or that agriculture in California withers in yet another drought … while the Pacific Ocean glimmers just 150 miles in the distance.

Re-glaciation and Frozen Fountains

One new solution for bringing water to normally inhospitable farmland is ice stupas. This technique was first developed in 2013 by Sonam Wangchuk, an Indian engineer. Because of this work, Wangchuk won the Global Award for Sustainable Architecture.

Ice stupas, essentially artificial glaciers, actually resemble gigantic frozen fountains. They’re ingenious and important because they put water where it’s needed (near crop fields) when it’s needed there (early in the growing season).

Here’s how they work. In the winter, when the runoff from glaciers or other mountain sources is not usually needed or captured, that water is collected in underground pipes below the frost line. The series of pipes ends with an open-ended up-flow pipe section that extends above the earth’s surface at or near the spot where the water will ultimately be needed.

Pressure and temperature push the water up the pipe, and it flows out the top – whereupon it immediately freezes (remember, it’s winter) and, over the weeks and months, develops into an ice sculpture that looks more like an icy Disney Splash Mountain rather than a traditional Buddhist dome stupa.

Throughout the early spring, before any glacier melt can reach the area, this artificial glacier slowly melts in the spring sunshine, providing a jump start on the growing season for newly planted nearby crops. By the time the ice stupa melts completely in early summer, glacier water is available to close out the growing season.

One of these stupas can hold 10 million liters of water and provide sufficient irrigation to support a 25-acre plot. Here’s a video narrative about Wangchuk’s amazing work in India. His technology is sure to improve growing conditions in many other less hospitable, high, cold deserts.