• 11.16.11

Mongolia Battles Climate Change With Giant Sheets Of Ice

The Mongolian capital is paying millions to naturally freeze extra ice in the winter that can help cool the city in the summer. Will this be a geoengineering project that actually gets off the ground?

Climate change and the urban heat island effect are making Ulan Bator, the capital city of Mongolia, uncomfortably warm in the summer. Instead of sitting back while citizens crank up their energy-sucking air conditioning, the Ulan Bator government is giving cash to scientists for a grandiose experiment: preserving freezing winter temperatures in massive blocks of ice, the hope being that the “ice shields” will cool the city and provide drinking water as they melt.


According to The Guardian, the $726,000 project hopes to create “naleds”–ice slabs that can be over 22 feet thick. Naleds occur naturally in northern climates, where springs and rivers push through cracks in the ice’s surface and freeze, adding extra layers of ice when the temperature drops at night.

ECOS & EMI, a Mongolian engineering firm, plans to imitate the process during the winter by drilling holes in ice forming on the local Tuul river. That should theoretically allow water from the river to seep into the ice and freeze throughout the winter, mimicking the natural naled process.

These artificial “naleds” could be a “cheap, environmentally friendly alternative” to the cooling effects of melting icecaps and glaciers, explains Robin Grayson, a Mongolian-based geologist.

If the artificial ice sheets work, Mongolia could save on energy costs, relieve pressure on water supplies, and prove that geoengineering can actually succeed. Because while scientists have thought of all sorts of crazy-sounding schemes to halt climate change (forests of synthetic trees, cloud-seeding ships) few have been put into practice–until now.

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.