What do we mean by Glacial Harvesting?

Artificial glaciers created by diverting meltwater to prepare for the uncertain future!


Glacial Harvesting refers to construction of artificial glaciers in a system where melt-water is diverted to a shady areas through iron pipes in winter, and trapped by an embankment. Once trapped, the water freezes naturally, forming glaciers that can hold about 10 lakh cubic feet of ice, enough to irrigate about 200 hectares of land.

The Indian Case

India’s receding glaciers could disappear altogether by 2030, affecting water supply to millions of Indians.

Mechanism of Harvesting

  • Artificial glaciers are created by diverting meltwater to a shady area through iron pipes in the winter, and reducing its velocity by putting up an embankment.
  • Passing through the iron pipes, the water freezes naturally forming ‘glaciers’ that can hold about 10 lakh cubic feet of ice, enough to irrigate about 200 hectares of land. (According to the national average, 200 hectares could mean a yield of 8,00-1,000 tonnes of wheat).
  • By early March, the start of the summer, the temperature starts to rise, thereby melting the ‘glaciers’. This water trickles into the reservoir, form where it can be channeled to the fields for irrigation or supply clean water to the villages below.
  • Depending on the size, it can cost between Rs 3 lakh and Rs 10 lakh to build such a glacier.

Prospects, Potential and Problems

  • With rainfall and snowfall becoming more erratic, one of the main advantages of artificial glaciers is that they supply water long before the actual glaciers start to melt in May and June. And the farmers can still save their crops.
  • But artificial glaciers need regular maintenance, since boulders can fall into distribution channels (owing to steep terrain) and block the flow of water in summer. The embankments can also be damaged and destroyed in floods and snowstorms.

Curious about the image above?

For over 50 years Baltazar Ushca has harvested the glacial ice of Ecuador’s Mount Chimborazo. His brothers, both raised as ice merchants, have long since retired from the mountain. This is a story of cultural change and how three brothers have adapted to it.


By K Siddhartha

Earth Scientist, Author, Mentor, Educationist & Consultant | 20+ years mentoring experience | 40+ books across humanities disciplines | Advisor to Maldivian & Sri Lankan Govt. on Education and Environmental Issues.

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