Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Artificial Glaciers

Ladakh, India is a fragile place. With less then 7 cm. of rain on average and with an 11,000 foot average altitude, life is difficult. When Molly and I visited Ladakh in the summer of 2005, we were struck by both the barrenness of the landscape and how ingeniously the locals carved out rich and beautiful lives for themselves. Stone walls, irrigation canals, micro hydro projects, terracing, building swales: the Ladakhis are long adept at using and managing their most precious resource: water. Instead of high input, top-down mega dams and earth moving projects, the Ladakis have made the most of their water for centuries using a very simple and elegant systems for capturing water; systems that do not slowly degrade and eventually destroy the local ecology.

Stone walls and irrigation, Rumbak Village, Ladakh, India

Reading through the Vermont Intercultural Semesters newsletter yesterday, I came across the newest and perhaps most radical Ladakhi water project: artificial glaciers. With climate change drying out the Himalayan Mountains at an alarming rate, a retired Ladahki engineer named Chewang Norphel figured out a relatively simple way of creating artificial glaciers that capture and channel snow melt. I'm not sure what the long term sustainability prospects are for artificial glaciers, but it certainly seems noteworthy, if for nothing else, then to showcase how people are already starting to adapt to the realities of climate change.

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