In one of the grandest geo-engineering projects in the world to date, the Mongolian capital city of Ulan Bator is preparing to keep cool this summer by freezing and storing a gigantic block of ice, reports the Guardian.
The ambitious project, which is being spearheaded by Mongolian engineering firm ECOS & EMI, will use the giant ice cube to reduce energy demand from air conditioners during the hot summer months, as well as to reinforce irrigation supplies. Citizens of Ulan Bator will also be able to tap the ice for drinking water.
The plan is a practical one for Ulan Bator because of the city's unusually bipolar climate, which can be unbearably hot and dry during a few summer months but bitterly cold in the winter. In fact, Ulan Bator is the coldest national capital in the world. As a result, ice can be farmed during colder months and made to last through the summer.
To generate the giant ice cube, engineers have looked to nature for inspiration. The idea will be to artificially create "naleds" — sheet-like slabs of layered ice, common in subarctic climates, that form from successive flows of freezing, pressurized ground water. Naled ice is far thicker than regular ice formation on lakes, since new layers continue to form as long as there is enough water pressure to penetrate the surface. In fact, naleds can be so thick that they have been used as drilling platforms, and even to build river crossings for tanks.
Officials will manipulate the naled-forming process by drilling bore holes in the ice that forms on the nearby Tuul River. As the water discharges across the surface of the ice, it will freeze in successive layers, much like stacking ice rinks on top of ice rinks.
Although it may sound like an extreme solution to global warming, Mongolian authorities say the technology could soon be utilized to combat rising temperatures in cities around the world. Giant ice cubes could even be used to create cool microclimates or ice-themed amusement parks that help sweaty citizens beat the heat in the summer.
"Everyone is panicking about melting glaciers and icecaps, but nobody has yet found a cheap, environmentally friendly alternative," said Robin Grayson, a Mongolian-based geologist. "If you know how to manipulate them, naled ice shields can repair permafrost and build cool parks in cities."
The process could technically be duplicated anywhere in the world that has winters with at least a couple of months of temperatures between minus 5 and minus 20 degrees C.