Font Size

- Aa +

Thu 25 Apr 2019 09:59 AM

Font Size

- Aa +

UAE rain: The story behind cloud seeding and how much it costs

ABTV's Shruthi Nair explains how cloud seeding is done and how much it costs in the UAE.

Why does it rain so much in the UAE? Is it cloud seeding?

Contrary to what a lot of believe, it is just a process of artificially encouraging a cloud to produce rain and NOT a method where it can just magically start raining on a cloudless, bright, sunny day.

So what it is does is that it increases the chance of rain by up to 15 to 30%.

How is it done?

Light planes are fitted with flares and are flown into the base of clouds where these flares are released. Now, these flares contain salts like potassium chloride, sodium chloride and magnesium, which encourages water vapour in the clouds to form droplets heavy enough to fall as rain.

Why is this important?

The United Nations (UN) predicts that 14 percent of the world’s population will encounter water scarcity by 2025, particularly in arid and semi-arid countries like ours.

You might say that effective desalination plants is a solution for the water problem. But, a typical large-scale desalination plant producing about 100,000 cubic metres of water per day costs $100m, equating to $1m for every 1,000 cubic metres.

With our fast growing population, the UAE is under pressure to come up with cost-effective alternatives.

Now, desalinating 1 cubic metre of water from the sea costs about $60, whereas the same amount of water extracted through cloud seeding costs just $1.

How much is being spent by the UAE on cloud seeding operations?

The UAE spent $558,000 on cloud seeding operations in 2015. Now, that’s the concrete figure I have.

Let’s do some math now. According to the NCAR, a medium-sized cumulus cloud can contain approximately 275 million gallons of water. Assuming a 5 percent increase in rainfall, the resulting produced water is around 13.75 million gallons.

“This equates to approximately 55,000 cubic metres. Assuming a price of AED2.24 [$0.60] per cubic metre, the total worth can be calculated to AED123,200 [$33,543].

“In the event that a 20 percent increase in rainfall is achieved, the resulting water produced is 55 million gallons, worth approximately AED492,800 [$134,175].”

And according to a report, 10 to 15% of rainfall last year was caused due to cloud seeding. So now we can guess how much was spent in it.

Now if you think cloud seeding is a recent discovery, then you are mistaken.

Let me share with you some interesting facts. In 1952, a freak storm caused floods that destroyed the UK village of Lynemouth, resulting in the deaths of 35 people.

Reports emerged years later that the storm was partly the result of a government-backed cloud seeding project. More than a decade later, the US army allegedly used cloud seeding techniques to increase monsoon rain over the Viet Cong-controlled Ho Chi Minh trail during the Vietnam war.

In 2007, Russian military pilots described how they created rain clouds to protect Moscow from radioactive fallout after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986. The results may have been catastrophic, with heavy, black-coloured rain falling over swathes of neighbouring Belarus, exposing the local population to high doses of radiation. The Belarusian government has insisted there is no danger despite the World Health Organisation (WHO) recording a higher than average occurrence of cancers in local children since the disaster.

So you see, this has been both useful and harmful, just depends on the way you do it and the purpose in question.

In the UAE cloud seeding is mainly going to be used for meeting the growing population’s needs and supporting emerging industries, such as farming in the UAE.

In 2015, the UAE Rain Enhancement Research Programme was launched to encourage research on rain enhancement. The programme, funded by the Abu Dhabi Ministry of Presidential Affairs, awards $5m each to successful applicants over a three-year period. The applicants are research consortia from across the world — the first tranche was awarded to a team from Japan, Germany and the UAE, and the second went to a team from the UK, US and Finland.

(Source: YouTube channel)