Scientists at the University of Aberdeen are developing an artificial glacier designed to solve the water crisis in the Himalayas.
Glaciers known as ice towers were discovered in 2013 by engineer Sonam Wangchuck, but they are still in their infancy, researchers say.
The towers release water from the fountain tap used to grow crops.
These towers were built in Ladakh, North India, one of the driest places in the world.
The Cryosphere and Climate Change Research Team in Aberdeen is working in the region to improve this technology, so it can be used on a large scale.
“Our research shows that the Ladakh mountain glaciers are receding at an increasing rate,” said Matteo Spagnolo, a university professor.
“So it is clear that interventions like ice towers are necessary,” he added.
Why is there a shortage of water in the Himalayas?
Most of the villages in the area are affected by severe snow shortages, especially in April and May, according to the Ice Stupa project.
It is time for people to compete to irrigate newly planted crops.
Small streams flow in mid-September, but they are of little use as agricultural activity ends at this time.
The problem was exacerbated by climate change, which caused the disappearance of natural glaciers.
In April, a study found that the world’s glaciers were melting at a rapid pace, losing about 270 billion tons of ice per year over the past 20 years.
The team from Aberdeen, in collaboration with Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, showed that the shrinking glaciers in Ladakh have also increased significantly.
Continuous and prolonged drought has threatened crops, thus threatening the lives of people living in cold and arid regions of the world.
Professor Spagnolo added: “Glaciers are exceptionally good and reliable indicators of climate change. In simple terms, as temperatures rise, glaciers may shrink and eventually disappear.”
“Not only are glaciers a shining and shocking symbol of climate change, but they are also an essential freshwater source for many communities,” he said.
How do ice towers work?
Ice towers are used to store wastewater as ice during winters and then melt for use during the dry months.
Before the last part of the pipe rises vertically, the pipes are initially buried underground, below the freezing line.
Due to the difference in height, temperature and gravitational force, pressure builds up in the tube. The stream eventually flows up and out like a fountain from the upper end of the pipe.
The subsero air freezes the water and gradually forms a pyramid-like structure.
Ice towers can release millions of gallons of water each year. It was built on the outskirts of villages near fields where water is most needed.
Its size and shape make it particularly effective, inexpensive and easy to maintain, the researchers said.
But they said more work was needed to prevent water from freezing in the pipes and improve site selection.
They also said it was important to have a good understanding of microclimates and to better distribute water across multiple users and villages.
“We are working closely with our partners on the Ice Stupa project team to assist with some aspects of the technical and logistics issues,” said Dr Anshuman Bhardwaj, a member of the research team.
“We have a good understanding of the rate at which glaciers are receding and how this will lead our strategy forward,” he added.
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