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Mongolians fight global warming with giant ice cube

Ulan Bator is funding a $730,000 ‘ice shield’ initiative to counterbalance urban heat island effect and global warming and to lighten up the city’s air conditioning bill. The experiment is sort of like a scotch on the rocks, except instead of scotch it’s Mongolia, and instead of one cube or two it’s the artificially super-frozen ...

Oleg Nikishin/Getty Images
Oleg Nikishin/Getty Images

Ulan Bator is funding a $730,000 ‘ice shield' initiative to counterbalance urban heat island effect and global warming and to lighten up the city's air conditioning bill. The experiment is sort of like a scotch on the rocks, except instead of scotch it's Mongolia, and instead of one cube or two it's the artificially super-frozen Tuul river. The hope is that a giant ice sheet --  known as a naled -- will store the winter's cold and cool the city through the hot months to come.

At the end of November, the engineers of the Mongolian ECOS & EMI firm will begin recreating the natural naled-forming process by drilling holes through the ice covering the river Tuul. This will allow water to rise through the ice sheet in the warmer daytime temperatures and spread across its surface. Then the new layers will freeze during the nights and create an ever thickening ice shelf.

While naleds have served industrial applications before, as military bridges in North Korea or as platforms for drilling in Russia, the Ulan Bator climate experiment is unprecedented. But if the Tuul successfully cools down the spring and summer as it gradually melts, providing water and a hospitable microclimate, the practice may become more common in places like Mongolia where the environmental conditions are right.

Ulan Bator is funding a $730,000 ‘ice shield’ initiative to counterbalance urban heat island effect and global warming and to lighten up the city’s air conditioning bill. The experiment is sort of like a scotch on the rocks, except instead of scotch it’s Mongolia, and instead of one cube or two it’s the artificially super-frozen Tuul river. The hope is that a giant ice sheet —  known as a naled — will store the winter’s cold and cool the city through the hot months to come.

At the end of November, the engineers of the Mongolian ECOS & EMI firm will begin recreating the natural naled-forming process by drilling holes through the ice covering the river Tuul. This will allow water to rise through the ice sheet in the warmer daytime temperatures and spread across its surface. Then the new layers will freeze during the nights and create an ever thickening ice shelf.

While naleds have served industrial applications before, as military bridges in North Korea or as platforms for drilling in Russia, the Ulan Bator climate experiment is unprecedented. But if the Tuul successfully cools down the spring and summer as it gradually melts, providing water and a hospitable microclimate, the practice may become more common in places like Mongolia where the environmental conditions are right.

Worst comes to worst, with Winter Olympics only two years away, Mongolia’s figure skaters have a new place to practice in the summer.

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