Mongolia’s Big Social Innovation Climate Change Experiment

Mongolia is about to embark on a huge social innovation experiment this November, as it tries to counter the harsh effects of global warming on its capital city, Ulan Bator. This groundbreaking project aims to store freezing winter temperatures in a giant block of ice that will help to cool and provide fresh drinking water to the city as it slowly melts during the summer heat. Mongolia has an extreme climate of droughts, and unusually cold and snowy winters, which have destroyed livestock and the livelihoods of thousands of families.

This social innovation trial will cost $700,000. Scientists hope the process will reduce the energy demands from air conditioners, regulate drinking water and irrigation supplies. If it is successful, this initiative could be applied to other cities in the far north of the country. Mongolia is a landlocked country in East and Central Asia, bordered by Russia to the north and China to the south, east and west. A third of the country’s population lives in the capital, while around forty percent of the country's workforce herds livestock in Mongolia's extensive pasturelands. However, the centuries-old nomadic lifestyle is coming under pressure from climate change and urbanisation.

A Mongolian engineering firm ECOS & EMI will be creating this social innovation exercise by drilling holes into the ice that starts to form on the Tuul River so that water will disperse across the surface, where it will freeze. This will be repeated at regular intervals throughout the winter, and will be very similar to adding layers of ice rinks on top of each other.

This social innovation geo-test aims to artificially create very thick slabs of ice that naturally form in far northern climates, when rivers or springs push through cracks in the surface to seep out during the day and then add an extra layer of ice during the night. These slabs of ice are called "naleds" or “Aufels,” and unlike regular ice formation on lakes that are only a metre thick, can instead be more than seven metres deep! This is because they continue expanding for as long as there is enough water pressure to penetrate the surface and as a result, take much longer to melt than regular ice.

The properties of naleds have been known for hundreds of years. The North Korean military used them to build river crossings for tanks during the winter and Russia has used them as drilling platforms. Now Mongolia wants to manipulate the use of naleds for social innovation, which could set a positive trend—a trend that allows cities around the world with extreme climates of intolerably hot summers and treacherous winters to create cool microclimates that save on summer air conditioning costs and regulate drinking supplies.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia