Ulan Bator, the capital of Mongolia, swings between winter lows of -20C and summer highs of 23C. Bordering a semi-arctic climate of patchy permafrost, it is on average the coldest national capital in the world and experiences only 8.5 inches of precipitation a year. In such a naturally cold and dry environment, variances in rainfall because of climate change could be catastrophic, resulting in floods and washouts or devastating droughts.
In order to ensure steady public water access during the summer months and to reduce the demand for air conditioning, Ulan Bator is undertaking a unique experiment that uses the bitterly cold winters to its advantage. The city will create a huge block of ice during the colder months that will melt slowly over the summer, providing fresh water and local cooling to counteract the urban heat island effect.
Using a relatively simple geoengineering principle that mimics the natural process of flowing water’s expansion and freezing, Mongolian scientists aim to create a giant sheet of ice several meters thick over the Tuul River which runs through the city. This will be done by drilling holes into ice formed over the river, allowing running water to emerge above and refreeze, forming successive layers of ice. Blocks will evidently be broken up and distributed across the capital when the weather warms up.
Dubbed the world’s biggest ice-making experiment, the project is led by Anglo-Mongolian engineering firm ECOS & EMI that hopes, if successful, it will be replicated in other cities in the far north. This is by far one of the most unique and ambitious climate control projects we’ve heard of because it is simple and very achievable.
Header image: “L.A. Ice” by Victor Hadjikyriacou. Other images via Wikipedia.