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Published on September 27th, 2017 | by James Ayre


Cloud Seeding Efforts Now Discreetly Underway In Over 50 Countries

September 27th, 2017 by  

Cloud seeding efforts are now being discreetly (or otherwise) undertaken in more than 50 countries around the world — with the aim often being to force precipitation to fall in areas that are in drought or experiencing water shortages. Or, alternately, to force rain to fall on your country’s farmland rather than on the neighboring country’s farmland.

Image by Yang H. Ku | C&EN | Shutterstock

Cloud seeding isn’t actually all that new (it goes back at least as far as WWII), but many questions remain regarding its effectiveness. Nonetheless, the scale of use has increased greatly in recent years.

Interestingly, much of this increase in use has been via the commercial sector. A fair number of companies in the US and Europe are now exploring the use of unmanned drones as cloud seeders, rather than airplanes, which could potentially lead to a drop in associated costs. Some of these companies are apparently being paid for things as mundane as “bursting” clouds ahead of wedding events — the point being to hopefully ensure a rain-free wedding day.

Beyond middle class narcissism, though, cloud seeding attracts interest mostly because of the potential to monopolize access to precipitation events in areas where they are uncommon. Such access could be the difference between a successful crop and starvation — presuming that cloud seeding ever ends up as effective as proponents like to claim…

It should be understood here that cloud seeding tech doesn’t create clouds, and it isn’t a real “solution” to drought or high heat. Rather, it’s a means of attempting to control where rainfall events occur.

Reuters provides more: “‘In extreme heat or drought conditions, there are no clouds. Nobody can make clouds,’ said Roelof Bruintjes, a senior scientist who works on weather modification for the US National Center for Atmospheric Research.

“Rather, the idea of cloud seeding is to make rain form more efficiently inside clouds so more water comes down, he said. Such artificial rainmaking is akin to giving clouds vitamins, or farmers applying fertilisers to boost their crop yields, he explained.”

That doesn’t seem a very accurate way of explaining it, I’d argue. It’s more like trying to preemptively pop a ballon (atmospheric moisture) where you want it to pop. That said, that way of explaining it still sounds more credible than the way that a spokesperson for Los Angeles County’s Department of Public Works by the name of Kerjon Lee put it. Lee said cloud seeding is like, and I quote, “giving mother nature a helping hand.”

Is that the way that some people genuinely think, that the world is a “mother” whose sole purpose is to provide humans everything they want (even if it’s at the expense of most of the other “children”)? Who actually believes that sort of thing? Are the animals that are better adapted to drier conditions than humans lesser in some fundamental way?

The spokesperson then went on to note: “It’s a practice that we believe is beneficial and, as conditions warrant, we’ll be using it again.” That’s a reference to the county’s use of cloud-seeding canisters placed atop the San Gabriel Mountains, which are ignited remotely and carry smoke with chemical seeding agents up into the clouds from there.

LA’s attempts at cloud seeding go back more than a half century or so, it should be noted. Also, the county has in recent years undertaken efforts that are probably far more pragmatic, such as the creation of artificial lakes and reservoirs.

The Reuters coverage provides more: “In the nearby United Arab Emirates, officials at the National Center of Meteorology and Seismology (NCMS) say cloud seeding efforts there are working. Considered a leader in ‘rain enhancement’, the nation now uses six specialized aircraft for seeding flights. It has witnessed an increase in rainfall of about 10–15% in polluted air and 30–35% in clean air, officials said.

“Omar Al-Yazidi, director of research and development at the NCMS, believes science shows cloud seeding is safe for the environment and the public. He thinks such efforts will only grow in popularity.”

Speaking of the safety of cloud seeding efforts in a generalized way is probably not the best idea, though, as there are a number of different chemical agents that can be used to form the nucleus of water droplets — which is what the aim of releasing cloud seeding agents is, to provide particles that will force the condensation of the water vapor in clouds, and thereby trigger rainfall events.

While the most commonly used used cloud seeding agent is silver iodide, which is only toxic in large quantities (supposedly), there are other agents that can be used as well. Some of these other agents may well be more toxic than silver iodide.

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About the Author

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy.

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