All About UAE’s Cloud Seeding and Artificial Rain

From the onset of the United Arab Emirates, the scarcity of natural pure water sources in the country has since been a major challenge and a great threat to its habitats. The plan of the UAE to the sustainable provision of sufficient water to the people has been a driving force to the country’s technological advancements in methods that will help tackle the challenge. One of the methods the country employs is “cloud seeding” which will be discussed in detail in this piece.

This is a process that we can say is more like altering the natural weather condition and sounds like a thing of the far future. Meanwhile, cloud seeding is a method that has been in implementation way back in the 1990s as a measure to meet water demands which is on a steady increase due to the country’s increasing population.

This piece discusses cloud seeding as it concerns the UAE, why it is done, how it is being done, how it all started, the current situation, and of course, what the future of the operation seems like. Make sure to read on.

It is no news that every rainfall in recent time that occurs in the country, springs up topics of cloud seeding all over the region. In which the most recent occurrence is not an exception. The process is sometimes referred to as ‘Artificial rain’ and some say it is ‘Rainmaking’. Meanwhile, as common as the term is, many people do not seem to understand the process, why it is done, and how it is done. After reading this, trust me your knowledge will be transformed positively.

What is Cloud Seeding?

Cloud Seeding is an artificial method employed to foster an already existing cloud to produce an appreciable amount of rain. It involves distributing substances into air which serves as cloud condensate, altering the microphysical structures of the cloud thereby increasing precipitation rate (rainfall). Its main aim is to increase the amount of rainfall at a particular period.

The process basically enhances the rainfall from clouds, it not appropriate to call it a Rainmaking process per se. It is not used to create rain, it is rather used to increase the yield of precipitation in a cloud that is already detected to contain droplets of water. The technique is employed across the globe as a counter solution to droughts and situations that may arise due to extremities in the weather. It is indeed not a new term in the UAE, It has been in practical operation for more than two decades.

The body put in place to see to the affairs of the cloud seeding operation is the UAE Research Programme for Rain Enhancement Science (UAEREP) which was launched in 2015 under the Deputy prime minister and minister of presidential affairs “Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan”. It is an initiative whose affairs are overseen by the National Center of Meteorology (NCM) which is based in Dubai.

Ever since the inception of the initiative, it has remained fully dedicated to employing strategies and technologies that are set to create additional water sources in the country. Its key goals are;

  • To advance the science and technological implementation of rain enhancement
  • To encourage partnerships and funding of researches related to rain enhancement
  • To ensure water security

The Research Programme for Rain Enhancement was set up to exactly stay focused to the goals above. Another thing the body does is awarding innovative ideas related to water enhancement. So far, it has received 365 proposals over three years.

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Why cloud seeding is done in the UAE

Some people would say “Does the country even have a choice?” The UAE is an arid region that typically experiences approximately 120mm of rainfall annually (and sometimes, even lower). The country’s landmass is 80% desert which of course makes water a very scarce commodity, what is common in a place like this is harsh weather. Water is one of the most essential elements of life whose importance can never be undermined. If we have to start briefing on the benefits of water to man, then this would probably transform into a textbook that is an article on its own.

The UN predictions indicated that, by the year 2025, about 14% of the global population is set to experience a threat of water scarcity. This scarcity is expected to be more severe in arid regions like the UAE. Though, the country is on its feet working tirelessly and ready to explore different technologies to tackle the scarcity of water in its continuously growing population for both the present day and future.

A few nations have indeed embraced the cloud seeding process with enthusiasm. It is a sure solution to lower precipitation rates. Recently, the UAE head of cloud seeding operations “Khalid Al Obeidii” stated that they planned on increasing its rainfall by 15 to 25%

In the UAE, cloud seeding is much cheaper compared to other means it uses to generate water like the desalination process; which is indeed a very expensive process though, it one of the major ways in which the country gets all of its drinking water.

How cloud seeding is done in the UAE

The UAE is indeed a nation of the future. Known for its advancement in the field of technology, so you should expect most things done here to be world-class. It is among the first countries in the Middle east to welcome the cloud seeding technology as a means of boosting its water resources. The country employs the latest known technological types of equipment alongside highly sophisticated radars put in place to monitor the atmosphere as it changes at all times. These equipment are there to detect when there are formations of clouds that are seedable (contain significant amounts of water droplets). If the result is positive, then the appropriate team is signaled to carry on the seeding process.

There are three known ways in which the cloud seeding process is done in the UAE, there are:

  • Cloud seeding through air
  • Cloud seeding from land generators  
  • Cloud seeding nanotechnology
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Cloud Seeding through Air

This is the most frequently used method in the country. It involves the use of Aircraft or rockets in dispersing the condensation nuclei in the already formed cloud. What is contained in the nuclei are mainly salt; Magnesium, Potassium chloride, and Sodium chloride. They are induced into flares (a type of pyrotechnic that produces a brilliant light without an explosion) and are loaded on the aircraft. When these get above the targetted clouds, the salt flares are released into them and the nuclei contents begin to manifest by accelerating the condensation process of the clouds, fostering an increase in the size of water droplets. these droplets continue to accumulate till they weigh enough to drop as precipitation.

Cloud Seeding from Land Generators

The second method employed involves the use of what is known as Ground generators. The salt flares are induced in the ground generators. When activated, the particles travel upwards directed by the air currents till they get to the targeted clouds, condense them till the water droplets formed are heavy enough to fall as precipitation. This method is not like that done with Airplanes rather, they are shot from the ground. There are presently two of such systems in the UAE. One located in the mountain of Hafeet and the other in the Fujairah area.

The Cloud Seeding Nanotechnology

This method is proposed to produce a more positive result compared to the former two though is still in its testing stage. It has only experimented in the northern and eastern regions of the country. Instead of flares, here the salt crystals are induced in titanium nanoparticle veneers. This is what is then used to condense the clouds by injecting the nanoparticle veneers into the clouds. According to the NCM, this method is expected to produce more precipitation and the last experiments performed yielded positively.

History of cloud seeding in the UAE

The UAE has been involved in the process of cloud seeding to increase the probability of rain dated back to the 1990s. Meanwhile, the term “cloud seeding” was first introduced in the year 1946 when a chemist named; Dr. Vincent Schaefer made an experiment that led to the discovery of the method. The process sprung up as a mistake while he was trying to create artificial clouds. He was in a cloud chamber, then he felt the chamber was too warm and decided to place some dry ice in it. He noticed water vapor forming around the dry ice subsequently and snow began to fall eventually. Recently Silver iodide is preferably used in very cold conditions, on the other hand, Sodium particles are preferred during warmer conditions.

About half a century after the first discovery experiment, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) country embraced the method to improve the probability of experiencing more rain, thereby leading to a cooler temperature and sufficed water supply. The result has yielded positively as the harsh temperatures are now being lowered being a confirmation from a meteorological expert, Dr. Said Al-Sami. “There has been a significant increase in the temperature since the late 1980s, and the UAE’s rain enhancement programs are helping increase the amount of rainfall, thereby improving weather conditions in the region,” he said.

As the process is carried out in the UAE, its neighboring countries are also enjoying the impact as clouds induced with salt particles move around, they also tend to get some cool air and rain. Saudi Arabia which is one of its neighboring countries recently approved its plan this year (2020) to also begin the cloud seeding process. As of 2011, the UAE was among the top five in the world in power consumption. This very high consumption due to the harsh, dry weather that binds people to compulsory air conditioning systems in every step they take.

According to the National Centre of Meteorology, the operation has been in an increasing mission since its inception in the 1900s. In April 2013, the cloud seeding operation yielded a rainfall of 136mm which is highly significant compared to that of 2003 which the rainfall was about 30mm. A total of 177 operations were done in 2016. In the year 2018, about 47mm of rainfall was recorded even though 184 cloud seeding operation was done in the country. But in 2019, it increased drastically to about 101mm having performed 247 operations. A larger amount of rainfall is now being experienced in the region which makes the atmosphere cooler and more of these water can be retained to add up to the ground Aquifer instead of evaporating back to the atmosphere.

Both the UAE and Saudi Arabia experienced floods in 2019 due to the heavy down poor where some people indirectly blamed the UAE for the comprehensive cloud seeding operations it carried out lately. Meanwhile, “Sufian Farrah”, a meteorologist and cloud seeding expert at NCM disclosed that the process is only being done to enhance the amount of rain and not to create floods. He made it known that some clouds are being avoided during the process as they thought trying to penetrate them seemed too dangerous for the aircraft.

The National Center of Meteorology revealed that “A total of 219 cloud seeding operation was conducted within the first six months of 2020 (January to June)”. It also has it that 8 were done in October 2019 in which about 6.7million cubic meters of water was stored as reserved water during that span of one month. All of these statistics are clear demonstration showing how significant and important the process is in the region

Till today, the specific amount of precipitation induced by the cloud seeding process cannot be precisely measured as there is no developed technology yet. But according to scientists, the process can only increase rainfall by 30 to 35 percent at maximum (in a clear atmosphere) and by 10 to 15 percent (in a hazy atmosphere). Hopefully, in the nearest future, scientists will come up with a device that can measure the rate of increment precisely.

Presently, over 60 weather stations are situated in the country, a weather radar network, alongside six aircraft, are in place for the cloud seeding operation. The whole operation is overseen and controlled in the country’s operational base located at Al-Ain airport, the aircrafts are always on standby to receive signals of seedable cloud formation to carry out the process of seeding. This base is strategically situated here due to its closeness to a range of mountains.

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National Centre of Meteorology

UAE’s NCM has a section that manages cloud seeing applications. Of the many objectives they have, here are some key areas where they are focused on.

  • Planning and conducting cloud seeding operations
  • Studying the climate of the different parts of the country in various different seasons to decide and plan could seeding operations
  • Ensuring the logistics of these operations are arranged including airplanes and fly clearances
  • Study the results of these operations
  • Closely monitoring cloud seeding and other advanced scientific methods in other countries and across the world to enhance the efficiency of programs in the UAE

Where are we headed to?

UAE spans about 84,000 km². 80% of that landmass is desert. This means we are in a shortage of water. Not just that, having the most part of the country arid and desert, our weather condition is far too hot which increases our power consumption significantly. We need air conditioners everywhere. Desert, Shortage of water, lack of rainfall, and excessive requirement of power consumption – the only way to cope with this is to be innovative and inventive about the ways we can increase the water sources – both groundwater and rainfall. It is a chain of reactions that affect each other and trying to change the natural weather is indeed a great task ahead that can only be approached using advanced technologies. It is glaring that the UAE is trying its possible best to meet up to its challenges and the progress is greatly visible. It is investing greatly in projects that manipulate the weather thereby making it favorable.

Of course, this is not the only way water security is guaranteed in the country. There are other sources of water in the country like the desalination process; which is where the country primarily gets drinking water. But the cost of desalination is very high when compared to cloud seeding. For 1 cubic meter of water gotten from the cloud seeding process costs an average of AED4, while desalination on the other hand for the same volume of water costs about AED 220. So now you should know why the country is throwing in more resources in the seeding process.

Our next step towards the development of new methods to increase the precipitation would be to artificially create clouds. The research for the same is underway as per the sources from NCM. One of the many methods that are being assessed to create an artificial cloud is to heat up the layers of air. If that were to be possible, harnessing solar energy to create more precipitation, it would be a remarkable feat towards our goal to reduce power consumption and climate change.

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