A Himalayan Village Builds Artificial Glaciers to Survive Global Warming

As glaciers disappear in the rain shadow of the Himalayas, one man is helping farmers irrigate their fields by storing water in an innovative way

The high-altitude desert of Leh in northern India falls in the rain shadow of the Himalayas, receiving as little precipitation as the Sahara. Farming is possible only in valleys fed by glacial runoff, and these are becoming scarcer as glaciers disappear due to warming. © Nick Pattinson

LEH, INDIA—In the high-altitude desert of the Indian trans-Himalayas, one man is buying time for villagers suffering from global warming by creating artificial glaciers.

The ancient kingdom of Ladakh is the highest inhabited region on Earth. Wedged between Pakistan, Afghanistan and China, Ladakh consists entirely of mountains and is home to a mostly Tantric Buddhist population.

In the so-called rain shadow of the Himalayas, Ladakh receives just five centimeters of rainwater a year—about the same as the Sahara Desert. The population is entirely dependent on glacier and snowmelt to irrigate crops.

Global warming has hit the region particularly hard. Around the principal town of Leh, most of the glaciers have disappeared in the past 15 years. The snow line has risen more than 150 meters, and remaining glaciers have retreated by as much as 10 kilometers. These glaciers are now at high altitudes, far from the villages, where they don’t produce significant meltwater until May or June.

The villagers here are particularly vulnerable because they experience such a brief summer. If they don’t plant their one annual crop of barley, peas or wheat by late March, there will be no time for it to mature to harvest before winter begins in September, after which the temperature drops below –30 degrees Celsius.

With villages emptying as people seek a living in Indian megacities, retired civil engineer Chewang Norphel has decided to do something about the worsening situation.

“Water is the most precious commodity here. People are fighting each other for it: in the irrigation season, even brother and sister or father and son are fighting over water. It is against our tradition and our Buddhist teachings, but people are desperate,” Norphel, a Ladakhi native, says. “Peace depends on water.”

From Scientific American

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Global Warming Could Increase Deserts 34% in Next Century

A new report estimates that desertification will expand up to 34% during the next century, enveloping an area the size of the United States.

This new report from researchers at the University of Maryland, College Park, makes a harsher prediction than previous studies that estimate expansions at about 10%.

“Our best guess is that human-induced global warming is going to dry out much of the arid lands in Africa’s Sahel region, areas around the Mediterranean Sea, the fringes of China’s Gobi desert, parts of South America and southwestern North America.

Moderate estimates by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predict that deserts will expand 10 percent worldwide by the year 2100. But it could be much worse.”

From Planetizen