2021 Photo Contest, Environment, 2nd Prize

One Way to Fight Climate Change: Make Your Own Glaciers


Ciril Jazbec

for National Geographic

22 March, 2019

Builders of the Shara Phuktsey stupa celebrate after their 33.5-meter-tall achievement was declared the tallest stupa in Ladakh in 2019. In subzero temperatures, they had to climb the stupa often to fix nozzles that had frozen and stopped spraying water.

As Himalayan snows dwindle and glaciers recede, communities in the Ladakh region of northern India are building huge ice cones that provide water into summer. Ladakh is a cold desert, with winter temperatures reaching -30°C, and an average rainfall of around 100 millimeters. Most villages face acute water shortages, particularly during the crucial planting season in April and May. Tourism and population growth are adding to water demand. In 2013, Sonam Wangchuk, a Ladakhi engineer and innovator, came up with a form of glacier-grafting that creates artificial glaciers in the form of conical ice heaps, resembling Buddhist religious stupas. The ice stupas store winter meltwater and slowly release it for the growing season in spring, when it is most needed for crops. The stupas are created in winter, when water is carried down from higher ground in underground pipes. The final section rises vertically, and the difference in height causes water to fountain outwards, in subzero temperatures, freezing to form a stupa. Stupas were established in 26 villages in 2020, and a pipeline is under construction to create 50 more. Stupa creator Wangchuk says that the stupas stand for a final attempt of Himalayan mountain communities to fight the climate crisis, but should not be considered as a solution to the challenge: that remains the responsibility of national governments, and people adopting environmentally friendly lifestyles to reduce emissions.

About the photographer

Ciril Jazbec

Ciril Jazbec (1987) is a Slovenian freelance documentary photographer. His work focuses on communities that are confronted by the effects of globalization and the climate cris...

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