Make it rain

Errol Kerr looks into the UAE's "seedy" weather manipulation

15th February 2016

UAE Rain

The United Arab Emirates stands to be one of the hardest hit by water shortages caused by global warming. With an expanding urban population, the need for a constant supply of water is essential; however, they are attempting to continue with their excessive and unsustainable use of the resource by literally makin’ it rain.

Only last year, research from the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology found that ground water reserves, which provide over half of the country's freshwater, are depleting, through the extraction of 860 billion litres a year, causing an annual drop of around half a centimetre.

With the country being one of the world's largest consumers of water per capita - reported at about 82% higher than the global average by the country's Federal Electricity and Water Authority - locating a solution is imperative. The predicted increases in global temperatures could mean that inhabiting the arid country will become increasingly difficult without intervention, regardless of the countries supply and demand of its oil resources.

In an attempt to encourage rainfall, the UAE has been working toward effective weather modification technology since the early 1990s and have made progress in implementing a possible solution. The concept of cloud-seeding has existed for more than half a century, however, the method being used in the UAE was only initially performed in 2010.

Using aircraft equipped with particulate-loaded flares, pilots are firing bursts of potassium chloride and sodium chloride into heavier clouds. This gathers together moisture within the clouds, creating water droplets that continue to grow in size until gravity takes its inevitable course. Naturally, this can’t exactly magic clouds out of thin air, only encourage more rainfall from already existing clouds.

Meteorologists indicate that successful operations increase projected rainfall amounts by 15%, with the largest increase being 35% more than anticipated.

Understandably, the entire idea has drawn a lot of scepticism. Due to this method being quite novel, replication of results is currently quite difficult, and it could be argued that you could never be sure whether the amount of rainfall has increased - how could you ever know how much rainfall would have fallen should the cloud-seeding not have occurred? Rather, this method alters with global rainfall patterns, by altering where rain falls rather than the total amount produced.

"In an attempt to encourage rainfall, the UAE has been working toward effective weather modification technology since the early 1990s"

Personally, I believe this negative behaviour toward a new method is ridiculous. It seems clear to me that the only answer to "how can you be sure though?" would be to have a crack and see what happens. While you can’t guarantee where the rain will fall, there appears to be more than just a bit of a correlation between the beginning of cloud-seeding over the UAE and rainstorm events occurring across the country, including over Abu Dhabi.

Cloud-seeding is also more cost-effective than their current method - decontaminating and desalinating water from the Persian Gulf, or their other considered plans, including full-scale water trading, and importing an iceberg. I would like to say the latter was a joke, but unfortunately it was a genuine consideration (god help us). I mean, ripping off a massive chunk of iceberg from polar regions and placing it a dessert in order to address a sustainability issue, arguable caused and exacerbated by climate change, is quite possibly the most ridiculous “solution” anyone has ever considered.

As a concept, increasing rainfall would work wonders for a country severely requiring water, although it is worth noting that the volume of water on earth if finite and this method only succeeds in increasing precipitation. If this method truly is cost-effective, then maybe it is worth further investigation in order to aide severely drought-ridden areas of the planet, a cause which should take priority over its current primarily use of increasing water availability for industrial purposes.

A potentially life-saving concept being reserved for a country central to global fuel production? Unbelievable…

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