The Architecture of Weather #4. Occupations Unseen
In the last instalment on atmospheric architecture, Christina Leigh Geros discusses the ways in which weather modification projects and extractive practices intersect with geopolitical boundaries, particularly in the context of the Indian Monsoon.

Weather and Empire have always been connected, the latter expanding and contracting with seasonal and technological modes of accessing atmospheric resources. In The Art of Not Being Governed, James C. Scott argues that the rise and fall of “valley states” across pre-modern Southeast Asia (roughly corresponding to contemporary national divisions) must be understood relative to the activity held within the hills that interrupt the valleys.1 By way of a unique circulation of winds that connect seemingly disparate plateaus, valleys, and ridges along altitudinal lines, we may extend a definition of Zomia—the region of hilly terrain extending from the southern edge of the Himalayan Massif into western China, Bangladesh and the Meghalaya region of India, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Myanmar, to wrap around the western boundary of the Tibetan Plateau—and present the site of one the world’s most intense battlegrounds for experimental water access through atmospheric extraction. As the world experiences more frequent and more intense weather events, the long-held debate over the existence of a climate crisis has faded into new debates over how to situate ourselves within it. It’s fair to say that much of the international political debate revolves around two main questions: how can technology save us from this impending disaster and who should pay for it?

Weather and Empire have always been connected, the latter expanding and contracting with seasonal and technological modes of accessing atmospheric resources.

Tso Kar, Monsoon Assemblages, Christina Leigh Geros, 2020.

Occasionally, we are reminded that national boundaries remain in flux and that access to meteorological material restricts the ability of any state to provide for its citizens. Although often flying under the radar, weather modification projects—large and small—are, at their very core, about resituating the State within atmospheric resource systems and emergent, extractive practices. Weaving between peaks and valleys, the national boundary between the Chinese controlled Tibetan Plateau and the nations of Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar regulates control of one of the planet’s most important natural resources: the Indian Monsoon. One of the most distinct bodies of atmospheric resource movement—a seasonal, living atmospheric river2—the monsoon flows across different political boundaries as it moves from the Arabian Sea to the Tibetan Plateau. Each year, the rising heat atop the Plateau calls in the monsoon and as it moves across the subcontinent, different accumulations of heat and particulate coerce the winds to drop weight (moisture) along the journey. Unlike most terrestrial rivers, atmospheric flows are unevenly visible and accessible, making it more difficult to map ownership against political boundaries and easier to claim access points at the entirety of the resource.

How can technology save us from this impending disaster and who should pay for it?

Ladakh, Monsoon Clouds Over Peaks, Monsoon Assemblages, Christina Leigh Geros, 2020.

Launched in 2016, China’s Sky River Project has been experimenting with the relocation of access points into the body of the Indian Monsoon to serve the nation’s water-dependent agricultural and industrial industries.3 By lining the Himalayan Rim with a network of cloud seeding chambers, the project aims to take advantage of the already intensifying thermal pull of the Plateau—each year drawing the monsoon further atop the world’s rooftop—by inducing weight gain and fall inside China’s boundary, just beyond reach of rivers flowing west and south from the Himalayas. Importantly, those rivers—the Yangtze, Yellow, Mekong, Indus, Syr Darya, Salween, Brahmaputra, Amu Darya, Ganges, and Irrawaddy—feed nearly half of the world’s population.4 By relocating the atmospheric source of these river systems, their potential collapse and a cascade of other, unknown consequences could follow.5

Weather modification projects—large and small—are, at their very core, about resituating the State within atmospheric resource systems and emergent, extractive practices.

Tso Moriri, Monsoon Assemblages, Christina Leigh Geros, 2020.

Against the financial and technological strength of China’s Sky River Project, local communities facing the immediate challenges of lessening monsoonal resource delivery are left to demonstrate their resource claims through other means. In the Indian region of Ladakh, a high-altitude desert along the western edge of the Plateau, a Ladakhi engineer, Sonam Wangchuk, looked to residential epistemologies for methods of moisture collection and retention to respond to local water shortages. Historically, Ladakhis were known to Tibetans on the Plateau as Rong-pa, or ravine dwellers, because of their year-round, self-sustaining practices that took advantage of the intensified winds moving through the ravine.6 To address the increasingly dry and erratic winds of the summer monsoon, Wangchuk redirected early spring ice-melt towards the intensified upper ravine winds to refreeze into village-scale reservoirs. Bolstered by a potent mix of ancient knowledge, contemporary cultural values, and resonant geometries, these ice reservoirs have become known as Ladakh’s Ice Stupa Project, successfully sustaining participating villages for the past decade.7 Among the project’s many achievements, the construction of trans-seasonal filiation lines between wind and reservoir provides a compelling argument for Ladakh’s indigenous occupation of the high-altitude monsoon winds now being relocated further afield. If, in premodern times, valley states (modern-day empires) were largely unified and governed around water sovereignty,8 then the ability of Zomia—the hilly, rugged terrain delimiting one empire from another—to foster its own water sovereignty from less obvious sources calls into question the very “grounds” of occupation and complicates the altitudinal justification of political boundaries.

Read the whole "The Architecture of Weather" column by Christina Geros.


Christina Leigh Geros is an architect, landscape architect and urban designer who specialises in conducting design-led research that critically engages the production of knowledge infrastructures related to climate- and neuro-ecologies. Currently based in London, she is a tutor in the Bartlett School of Architecture’s MA Landscape Architecture Programme and in the MA Environmental Architecture Programme at the Royal College of Art, leading RS2: The Orang-orang and the Hutan and RS4: ANEMOI. Previously, she was a research fellow with Monsoon Assemblages at the University of Westminster in London, the design director for Anexact Office, and the design research strategist for in Jakarta. In these various positions and since 2012, she has worked with local community groups, activists, artists, and researchers to engage with environmental and human rights violations across south and southeast Asia; which informs her current practice of designing engagements, implementations, and interfaces of investigation that bridge across platform, scope, and inquiry. Christina holds a Bachelor of Architecture from the University of Tennessee and two graduate degrees from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design: a Masters of Architecture and Urban Design and a Masters of Landscape Architecture. As a research and design contributor, her work has been featured in publications and exhibitions around the globe.


1 James C. Scott, 2009, The Art of Not Being Governed, New Haven: Yale University. Press, pp.16-18.
2 Christina Leigh Geros, “Drinking the Monsoon: Monsoon as Atmospheric Spring”, GeoHumanities, 7:1, 65-88.
3 Guangqian Wang et al., 2018, “Study on sky rivers: Concept, theory, and implications”, Journal of Hydro-environment Research 21:109-17, DOI: 10.1016.
4 See Brahma Chellany, 2011, Water: Asia’s new battleground, Uttar Pradesh, India: Harper Collins; Brahma Chellany, 2015, Water, Peace, and War: Confronting the global water crisis, Lanham, MD: Rowman & littlefield.
5 See previous instalments.
6 See Nawang Tsering Shakspo, 2014, A Cultural History of Ladakh, Kyle Gardner (ed.), New Delhi: Centre for Research on Ladakh.
7 Sonam Wangchuk, Ice Stupa – A Form of Artificial Glacier, [online].
8 The Art of Not Being Governed, p. 16.

27 Feb 2023
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