Heidelberg researchers study effects of ice reservoirs on meltwater-dependent economies in high mountain regions of South Asia
Receding glaciers and dwindling snowfalls pose a threat to meltwater-dependent agriculture in large parts of the high mountain regions of South Asia. A research team led by Prof. Dr Marcus Nüsser of Heidelberg University's South Asia Institute conducted a long-term study to determine how creating ice reservoirs, commonly called artificial glaciers, might help counteract seasonal water scarcity.
The researchers assess the different types of ice reservoirs and their socioeconomic impact in an attempt to identify whether artificial glaciers are an effective adaptation to climate change. Members from the Heidelberg Center for the Environment also contributed to the study.
Over the past thirty years, funding has been provided to build various types of ice reservoirs in the high-altitude desert of Ladakh in Northern India. These artificial glaciers are fed by meltwater runoff between November and March and stored as ice at locations with the suitable topography and microclimate. The glaciers, structured as cascading walls or stupas, supply water for agriculture in the dry early months of spring in this region, which is completely dependent on snow and glacier meltwater.
In their recently published study, Marcus Nüsser's team provide an inventory and typology of the artificial glaciers in Ladakh. Their analysis of satellite images and field measurements point to a storage volume of between 1,010 and 3,220 cubic metres of water.
“In the best case, the fields could be fully irrigated up to three times over the course of several days,” states Prof. Nüsser. “The storage volume is not reliable, however, because it depends on climatic conditions in the region, which vary from one year to the next.”
The researchers were able to extrapolate the values obtained to the entire storage volume in the Ladakh region and demonstrate that the different types of ice reservoirs are not equally efficient. Reservoirs made up of multiple sequential cascading basins are most effective.
“In addition to climatic conditions, the ratio of subsidies to effectiveness is also decisive for the evaluation,” explains Prof. Nüsser. Based on interviews with local smallholders, the artificial glaciers are also considered beneficial because they reduce the risk of crop failure and increase the possibility of growing cash crops. According to the researchers, the artificial glaciers can therefore “be understood as a site-specific adaptation strategy to environmental conditions in the high-altitude desert of Northern India”.
Beyond their local application, the ice reservoirs were also framed in the past as a general response to the negative effects of climate change, especially receding glaciers. Based on the findings by the Heidelberg researchers, however, the usefulness of this strategy remains questionable.
Climatic variability and natural hazards – especially floods, landslides and avalanches – along with incomplete integration into the local socioeconomic setting significantly limit the efficacy of artificial glaciers. “Moreover, the term ‘artificial glacier’ is misleading, because these ice reservoirs can in no way replace natural glaciers,” states Prof. Nüsser.
The research results were published in the journal "Regional Environmental Change".
Communications and Marketing
Press Office, phone +49 6221 54-2311
Prof. Dr Marcus Nüsser
South Asia Institute (SAI)
Phone +49 6221 54-8922
M. Nüsser, J. Dame, B. Kraus, R. Baghel, S. Schmidt: Socio-hydrology of "artificial glaciers" in Ladakh, India: assessing adaptive strategies in a changing cryosphere. Regional Environmental Change (published online on 26 June 2018), https://doi.org/10.1007/s10113-018-1372-0
Marietta Fuhrmann-Koch | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft
Seismic study reveals huge amount of water dragged into Earth's interior
18.12.2018 | National Science Foundation
A damming trend
17.12.2018 | Michigan State University
Researchers from the University of Basel have reported a new method that allows the physical state of just a few atoms or molecules within a network to be controlled. It is based on the spontaneous self-organization of molecules into extensive networks with pores about one nanometer in size. In the journal ‘small’, the physicists reported on their investigations, which could be of particular importance for the development of new storage devices.
Around the world, researchers are attempting to shrink data storage devices to achieve as large a storage capacity in as small a space as possible. In almost...
The more objects we make "smart," from watches to entire buildings, the greater the need for these devices to store and retrieve massive amounts of data quickly without consuming too much power.
Millions of new memory cells could be part of a computer chip and provide that speed and energy savings, thanks to the discovery of a previously unobserved...
What if, instead of turning up the thermostat, you could warm up with high-tech, flexible patches sewn into your clothes - while significantly reducing your...
A widely used diabetes medication combined with an antihypertensive drug specifically inhibits tumor growth – this was discovered by researchers from the University of Basel’s Biozentrum two years ago. In a follow-up study, recently published in “Cell Reports”, the scientists report that this drug cocktail induces cancer cell death by switching off their energy supply.
The widely used anti-diabetes drug metformin not only reduces blood sugar but also has an anti-cancer effect. However, the metformin dose commonly used in the...
A research team from the University of Zurich has developed a new drone that can retract its propeller arms in flight and make itself small to fit through narrow gaps and holes. This is particularly useful when searching for victims of natural disasters.
Inspecting a damaged building after an earthquake or during a fire is exactly the kind of job that human rescuers would like drones to do for them. A flying...
12.12.2018 | Event News
10.12.2018 | Event News
06.12.2018 | Event News
18.12.2018 | Materials Sciences
18.12.2018 | Physics and Astronomy
18.12.2018 | Physics and Astronomy