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Cheap, Artificial Glaciers Could Help Save Disappearing Ice Sheets

Geoengineering is a controversial topic, and for good reason. It’s risky to toy with our planet when so much damage has already been done, but that hasn’t stopped researchers from investigating everything from forests of synthetic trees to cloud-spraying ships. While most of these efforts focus on shielding the planet from climate change, one Indian engineer is focusing on a more specific problem: glacier melt in the Himalayas.

Chewang Norphel

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Geoengineering is a controversial topic, and for good reason. It’s risky to toy with our planet when so much damage has already been done, but that hasn’t stopped researchers from investigating everything from forests of synthetic trees to cloud-spraying ships. While most of these efforts focus on shielding the planet from climate change, one Indian engineer is focusing on a more specific problem: glacier melt in the Himalayas.

Chewang Norphel, an enterprising 76 year old dubbed the “Ice Man”, has built 12 artificial glaciers by moving meltwater into artificial lakes located on the side of mountain valleys. Hillside retaining walls keep the frozen water in place until the summer, when the “glaciers” melt and water is released into the rivers below. Each retaining wall is built at a different altitude so that it melts when water is needed the most.

Norphel’s efforts have by and large been successful–his glaciers each store up one million cubic feet of ice, or enough to irrigate 494 acres of Indian farmland. The glaciers are relatively cheap, too, with a cost of a few thousand dollars a pop. That’s not bad considering that the frozen water can make the difference between a successful and failed farming season.

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The Indian government has latched on to the idea, offering Norphel over $26,000 to construct five new glaciers. Even that will not be enough to ensure food for the 400 million people living in the Ganges river basin–and it’s certainly not enough to stop the U.N’s prediction that the Himalayan glaciers will melt completely by 2030. Norphel’s effort is a band-aid at best, but it’s one that the Indian government should not take lightly. It might just save the lives of millions of people.

[Via UK Telegraph]

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About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more

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