Are artificial glaciers a panacea for offshoots of global warming?
I heard about artificial glaciers while working for a non-government organization (N.G.O.) in 2006. But I saw my first artificial glacier in Nubra Valley in ebruary 2020. I spotted bluish ice stupas in Ganglass (Leh) and Ayi (Nubra). The stupa resembling reliquary Buddhist structures is a type of artificial glacier. Locals have experimented with two more forms of artificial glaciers: terraced glaciers and icefalls.
These three glaciers are an improvisation of ancient Ladakhi ice harvesting techniques. These are built inside and outside mountain stream channels. Shaded hillsides in the upper sections are preferred because absence of sun in winter encourages ice formation and accumulation. Artificial glaciers, manmade ice reservoirs, are webs of dams (stone walls) and water channels. They have both advantages and disadvantages. Icefalls are probably technically the easiest to build and the cheapest. Varied artificial glacier designs
require local as well as non-local material and constant maintenance. Traditional techniques employed free local material and free local labor-services (village specific) on rotation basis.
Both material and services were reusable. However, now-adays, labor is short due to (1) technical skill required to implement modern techniques, (2) rural to urban migration, (3) unwillingness to offer free labor even for own benefit, and (4) dwindling interest in laborious tasks. In some cash-rich Ladakhi villages, residents have hired “permanent” labor for maintaining these ice reservoirs during winter.
Every type of artificial glacier requires water diversion that is impacting water sharing protocols followed by downstream and upstream villages. Terraced and icefall glaciers are built upstream at high altitude, whereas ice stupas can be built even at relatively lower altitude. Annual artificial glacier construction period ranges from October to ebruary depending on the type of glacier and local geological, hydrological, and topographical factors.
Temporary man-made glaciers offer short term solutions to long term global and local climate change problems: shrinking glaciers and decreasing annual snowfall and ensuing water scarcity. The artificial glaciers supplement irrigation water for crop sowing season in spring (April-May) when natural glacial melt is low or non-existent. The temporary glaciers meet water needs between March and uly. By uly not only the man-made glaciers fully melt but also natural glaciers start producing sufficient melt.
The improvised artificial glaciers have been conceived by three Ladakhis: Chewang Norpel (terraced artificial glacier in 1987), Sonam Wangchuk (ice stupa artificial glacier in 2013-14), and HH Chetsang Rinpoche (icefall artificial glacier in 2016-17).
The ice stupa artificial glaciers with small surface area not only have lower evaporation
rate but also have a visual appeal. In 2019, the Himalayan Institute of Alternatives, Ladakh (HIAL.edu.in) organized an ice stupa competition on International World Water Day celebrated on March 22 to cash in on its appeal.
In olden times, some villages also erected long stone walls at nearby passes to create snow banks for spring use. The walls obstructed the snow-carrying winter windǢ the snow fell and accumulated in large amount at the selected location. The canals originating from the passes supplied water. Some villages even laid out the canals on the passes to redirect the snowmelt from the slopes receiving high amount of snow in winter.
Even though the artificial glaciers produce millions of liters of water yet they can neither replace natural glaciers nor altogether erase the offshoots of global warming.
Refer to common cost box Arano in Winter.
District Leh, Ladakh, India
Hiking Route + approximate Altitude + Distance Arano (3,334m) – Thokpa – Ayi (3,334m) – Ayirzong (3,788m) –Ayi – Artificial Glacier – Ayi – Thokpa – Arano Aran0 – Thokpa – Ayi = 5-6km walk along gently sloping road Ayi – Ayirzong –Ayi = 3-4km hike along well-marked moderately ascending mountain path Ayi –Artificial Glacier – Ayi = 1.5-2km hike along well-marked gently sloping mountain path, at places path is stony and narrow Total length of the return hike: 1416km Total duration of the trek: ½ to 1 day depending on (1) walking speed and (2) activities undertaken along the path, say photography, picnicking, long rest to gaze at the landscape, bird watching… Attractions of the Route Birds Ice and snow (seasonal) Mountainous Views Wild flowers (seasonal) Public Conveniences
Variants of Geographical Names or Spellings Ayi, Ayee Ayi Cave, Ayee Cave, Ayeerzong, Ayeedubk, Ayirzong, Tsampuk Aranoo, Arann, Aranu, Arano, Arunuk