There are better ways to build glaciers.
During winter in India’s mountainous Ladakh region, some farmers use pipes and sprinklers to build building-sized ice cones. Known as ice towers, these towering man-made glaciers slowly release water as they melt during the dry spring months for communities to drink or irrigate crops. But when the environment gets too cold, the pipes often freeze, stifling construction.
Now, preliminary results show that, automated system Ice towers can be erected while avoiding freezing pipes, using local weather data to control when and how much water is sprayed. In addition, the new system uses about one-tenth the amount of water that traditional methods use, the researchers reported June 23 at the Frontiers in Hydrology conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
“This is one of the technological steps forward, and we need this innovative idea as a viable solution,” said Duncan Quincey, a glaciologist at the University of Leeds, UK, who was not involved in the study. Automation could help, he said. Communities build larger, longer-lasting ice towers to provide more water in times of drought.
The Ice Pagoda emerged in 2014 as a means of community response Shrinking alpine glaciers Due to anthropogenic climate change (SN: May 29, 2019). Typically, alpine communities in India, Kyrgyzstan, and Chile channel glacial meltwater into gravity-driven fountains that are constantly sprinkled during the winter. The cold air freezes the drizzle, forming ice cones that can store millions of liters of water.
The process is simple but inefficient. more than 70% The spewed water may have flowed away rather than frozen, says Suryanarayanan Balasubramanian, a glaciologist at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland.
So Balasubramanian and his team outfitted the ice tower’s fountain with a computer that automatically adjusts the flow from the vent based on local temperature, humidity and wind speed. The scientists then tested the system by building two ice stupas in Gutanin, Switzerland – one using a continuous water fountain and the other using an automated system.
Four months later, the team found that the constantly spewing fountain had spewed about 1,100 cubic meters of water and accumulated 53 cubic meters of ice, with the pipes frozen at one point. The automated system only sprayed about 150 cubic meters of water, but formed 61 cubic meters of ice without any frozen pipes.
The researchers are now trying to simplify their prototype to make it more affordable for alpine communities around the world. “We ultimately want to reduce the cost so that it is within two months’ salary of a Ladakh farmer,” Barrasubramanian said. “About $200 to $400.”