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Artificial Glaciers Water Crops in Indian Highlands

Villagers discover that it is easier to store water in ice than in a reservoir, and less is lost to evaporation.

A remote Indian village is responding to global warming-induced water shortages by creating large masses of ice, or "artificial glaciers," to get through the dry spring months. (See a map of the region.)

Located on the western edge of the Tibetan plateau, the village of Skara in the Ladakh region of India is not a common tourist destination.

"It's beautiful, but really remote and difficult to get to," said Amy Higgins, a graduate student at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies who worked on the artificial glacier project.

"A lot of people, when I met them in Delhi and I said I was going to Ladakh, they looked at me like I was going to the moon,” said Higgins, who is also a National Geographic grantee.

People in Skara and surrounding villages survive by growing crops such as barley for their own consumption and for sale in neighboring towns. In the past, water for the crops came from meltwater originating in glaciers high in the Himalaya.

But in recent decades, climate change has uncoupled glacial melt cycles in the Tibetan Plateau—which is warming up on average two degrees Celsius faster than the rest of the world—from the traditional agricultural season, causing water shortages in April and May when Ladakhis typically begin sowing seeds for the summer season. If the villagers don't sow during this critical window, there is no crop that year.

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