Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Ice Stupas

Image result for ice stupaEnvironmental & Science Education
Water & Watersheds
Edward Hessler

Elizabeth Kolbert begins her recent New Yorker article by providing some useful information about stupas. "The word comes from the Sanskrit, meaning 'to heap' or 'to pile up'—is a Buddhist monument that often houses a relic. Over the millennia, stupas have been built from many materials—wood, stone, earth, clay, brick—and have taken many forms, from simple domes to ornately tiered towers.

"The first ice stupa was created in 2013, in Ladakh, in Kashmir. 

"Villages in Ladakh, a high mountain-desert region bordered by the Himalayas, largely depend on glacial runoff for water. As the glaciers recede, owing to climate change, the flow of water has become more erratic. Sometimes there’s too much, producing flash flooding; often, there’s too little. The ice stupa, a kind of artificial glacier, is the brainchild of a Ladakhi engineer named Sonam Wangchuk. In a way, it, too, is designed to house relics.


"The stupas are created in winter, using runoff or spring water that’s been piped underground and downslope. The water is released at night, when temperatures can drop below zero degrees Fahrenheit. It shoots through a sprinkler into the air and freezes. In the course of the season, elaborate conical structures take shape, with the contours of the drip castles that kids make on the beach.

"Ice stupas can reach the height of a ten-story building. They start to melt in March, and at higher elevations—some villages in Ladakh sit more than fifteen thousand feet above sea level—the process can last through July. The meltwater helps farmers get through the crucial spring planting season, when they sow vegetables, barley, and potatoes. (Rainfall in the region averages only around four inches a year.)"

Kolbert's essay appeared in the print edition of the May 20, 2019 The New Yorker.

Here you can watch a short video--not narrated unless you know the local language. I read the essay first--beautifully written and photographed. It includes diagrams on how stupas are constructed as well as a link to the video which begins with kids at play.

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