Ladakh engineer’s meticulous Ice-Stupa project wins Rolex Awards for Enterprise 2016
Sonam Wangchuk – A mechanical engineer from Himalaya’s Ladakh region has gained global recognition as he was awarded with prestigious Rolex Awards for Enterprise 2016 in Los Angeles. He was honored for his ambitious, innovative ‘Ice Stupa’ project he has been working to find solution for water scarcity to facilitate cultivation in Ladakh – a cold desert where temperature remains in minus throughout the year. The Himalayan glaciers are receding and posing threat of water scarcity to the villagers dependent on these water sources.
Sonam Wangchuk, aged 50 is believed to be the inspiration behind the genius “Phunsuk Wangdu” character played by Amir Khan in Bollywood blockbuster ‘3 Idiots’.
He has come out with a simple but incredible idea to store water in the form of Stupa-shaped artificial glaciers to be utilized during the months of March to July. The water flow in the glacier-fed streams drops during these months and villagers do fall short of water for crop irrigation. What’s more fascinating is that he has accomplished it without using electric pump or any sort of energy to pump the water.
He was inspired by the experiments of a native engineer, Chewang Norphel and started working on his project with students of SECMOL Alternative School. The institute is also set up by Wangchuk.
The solution is based on a very simple concept: how to collect and freeze water when the streams are flowing at full flow. The glaciers are given a conical shape, so that sunlight gets minimum surface area, thus, slowing down the melting rate by about five times.
Now, his meticulous solution to make cultivation feasible in dry Himalayan region has been acknowledged globally. The prestigious Rolex Awards “support those whose own spirit of enterprise mirrored the enterprising spirit on which the company was founded”.
I observed that for the spring sun and winds to melt the ice, they needed large surface areas. So if we reduced the area exposed to the sun and wind, then the ice could be stored in the village itself, thus eliminating the need for villagers to climb the mountains,
For example, one ice stupa of 40 m height and 20 m radius would store roughly sixteen million litres of water. If the same amount of water was frozen as a flat ice field 2 m thick, the area exposed to sun would be roughly five times more. Therefore, the sun and the warm spring winds would melt it roughly 5 times faster.
As the temperature is always low enough in Ladakh region, freezing water is possible. However, slowing down its melting during summers was a challenge, which was achieved by Wangchuk. Along with his team of volunteers, he has already tested a prototype in the warmest and lowest altitude (10, 400 feet) of the region. Now, he is plans to build 80-90 such Ice-Stupas. Each glacier will be about 35 meters high and can store upto 16,000 cubic liters of water.
Wangchuk has a dream to establish an alternative university for which the village had donated 65-hectare land. He aims to provide platform to engage youth from Ladakh and other Himalayan regions extending to Afghanistan for studying and finding their own solutions. You can read details about his project Ice-Stup on official website of Rolex Awards.
Wangchuk is live example of how humankind can use natural resources without tempering with its original characteristics. That’s why he was one of the five winners of this year. Congratulation to him for bringing prosperity to his home village that would further inspire other mountainous regions to solve water scarcity to facilitate cultivation.