Interview with Ap Verheggen: Glaciers in the desert

Who is Ap Verheggen?

I’m a Dutch artist, a filmmaker and a cultural ambassador for UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education and the National Water Traineeship programme.

As a sculptor, I’m fascinated by aspects of nature. I’m currently working on a sculpture series of animals that defy gravity and actually have some subtle human characteristics. This series, that was inspired by a recent trip to Costa Rica, demonstrates that we as people are part of nature as well, even if we don’t always realise it.

One of my main goals when I'm not sculpting is to help get more young professionals enthusiastic about pursuing scientific work where it can make a difference in people’s lives. I’ve been embarking on global art / science projects aimed to inspire people to see the future of our planet - our own collective future - in a positive way.

One highlight is our film, "Iceberg Riders," that we made when working on a recent art project in the Arctic. In this project named CoolEmotion, we placed large sculptures by helicopter on a drifting iceberg to show the speed of natural processes of warming and melting.

We have to realise that Climate change = culture change in order to survive, so I wanted to get people thinking more.

What is SunGlacier?

The goal is to build a glacier - yes, real ice - in the hot, dry desert by using solar energy to freeze existing moisture in the air. There’s more water in the air in these conditions than most people realise.

The design of SunGlacier is a 200m square leaf sculpture that is covered with solar cells on the top side while the bottom (shaded) side houses the ice-producing surface. All energy produced will cool down the underside in such a way that moisture will freeze against the surface: the more sun, the more ice.

We’ve tested the process with engineers and researchers at Cofely where we built a test chamber to simulate desert conditions. The tests were successful, so now we’re further analysing the data to look at building the first 50m square prototype to test outdoors. It’s a glacier machine!

sunglacier ap verheggen

Why are you doing this?

We want to inspire people to think across (existing) borders to test the limits of (existing) technology in adapting to changing conditions on our planets.

Of course, SunGlacier is not any kind of practical solution in itself, but rather a functioning work of art that can help people look at climate and technical changes in a different way. The bar should be raised on what can be achieved to help cultures prosper in uncertain times.

It’s evident that climate pattern extremes are increasing, as I’ve seen in the Arctic, and this change requires innovative solutions to help carry us successfully into the future.

glacier desert ap verheggen

ap verheggen

Cultures on the planet have always adapted to changes in the climate, and we need to move beyond the counter-productive practices of naming, blaming and shaming on the causes of climate changes.

Instead, let’s work together to make the most of the possibilities that we have!

How is SunGlacier progressing?

Very positively. We’re exploring partnerships at the moment with governments and companies in the Middle East. Funding is important in any project of this nature: framework, technology, permits, travel etc.

A helpful thing is that I also occasionally give lectures at technical universities in the Netherlands, and several requests have come in from graduate students who are interested in assisting in SunGlacier research and documenting the process.

After we build the prototype, hopefully later this year, we can take into account external factors such as wind and its effect on the ice-producing process.

The project has already been proved in terms of technology. Now it’s only a matter of securing the right funding / partnerships to turn it into a very large reality. A project unique in concept and scale like SunGlacier can bring very positive exposure to the area where we'll build it, as well as to our partners who help make it happen.

What's the public response been so far?

It’s already been successful in that it has attracted people’s attention around the world through reports featured in major newspapers, television and on the Internet. I am fortunate to have the opportunity to explain my ideas in my lectures, also at government organisations.

Even though SunGlacier is an exercise in believing in the unbelievable, people can find an escape from pessimism toward the future and become enthusiastic about innovative possibilities.

People need to keep in mind that this is still essentially an art project, but with positive ambitions of inspiring ways of adapting to environmental changes that are already upon us.

Changes on our planet are not always negative. We can embrace these changes to create some positive results - and create some nature-inspired art while doing so.

This interview was conducted by IamExpat contributor Matt Luna, who has been working with Ap Verheggen on the SunGlacier project.

Matt Luna


Matt Luna

A communication specialist

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