Cloud Seeding Technology: How Drones Can Create Rainfall

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SEATTLE, Washington — Cloud seeding technology has been around for about 70 years, beginning with the first experiment in 1946 by researcher Vincent Shaefer. In this experiment, Shaefer dropped six pounds of dry ice into clouds in New York, resulting in almost immediate results: snow began to fall.

What is Cloud Seeding?

This technology involves releasing chemicals or electrical charges into clouds. The most common chemical used in these experiments is silver iodide. This chemical works by attracting water droplets within clouds which freeze when they come together. As more droplets bond, this clump of frozen water droplets becomes too heavy for the cloud. It eventually falls as snow.

Increasing the amount of snow that a country receives increases its snowpack. This has a beneficial impact on water levels in the country. When the snowpack begins to melt in the spring, the runoff that is produced can be a main source of water for the population. While studies have shown mixed results of these weather modification experiments, some results have shown that seeded clouds can create around 5% to 15% more snowfall. 

Drones in the United Arab Emirates

The National Center of Meteorology (NCM) in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has recently been using drones to fly into clouds and release the electrical charges needed for cloud seeding. These electrical charges work similarly to silver iodide by helping water droplets to merge and form precipitation. In using this method, the UAE can avoid releasing chemicals into the air and simply release electrical charges with the same result.

The UAE typically sees less than four inches of rain per year, causing water scarcity to be a large issue for the country. Two-thirds of the UAE’s water needs are met through the use of groundwater. This reliance has become an issue due to high temperatures causing high levels of evaporation and increased demand as a result of a growing population. Studies have shown that cloud seeding can potentially increase rainfall by 35%. The NCM is hoping this increase in rainfall can help alleviate the impact of water scarcity in the areas that are struggling.

The Impact of Drought

Every year, around 55 million people are affected by drought and water scarcity. Drought threatens livestock and crops, increases disease and death and leads to increased migration. Approximately 40% of the world’s population is affected by water scarcity. Water is necessary for agriculture, which means that a lack of water can lead to malnutrition and food insecurity.

Further, women are also disproportionately affected by water scarcity. Each year, more than 40 billion hours are lost to getting water in sub-Saharan Africa, a job chiefly assigned to women. These women are then required to miss school or even drop out. This leaves them trapped in the cycle of poverty with few opportunities.

Recent Data

Over the years, results from weather modification experiments have not been conclusive. These experiments are extremely difficult to perfect. In order to be successful, there must be two situations with the same weather conditions, one which uses cloud seeding technology and one which doesn’t. Since weather is unpredictable and can change quickly, this is difficult to achieve. However, advances have been made in recent years to point toward successful experiments.

As previously mentioned, seeded clouds can produce around 5% to 15% more snowfall than clouds that have not undergone seeding technology. This data points to costs of cloud seeding technology being only a few dollars per acre-foot of water. However, other water conservation technologies such as recycling and desalination can often cost hundreds of dollars per acre-foot of water.

Recent data has shown the importance of pursuing cloud seeding technology with further research. As water scarcity has grown, organizations around the world have continued to push for research in this technology. Water is one of the most important resources needed across the world and with more information, new experiments can reveal how we can best combat the growing scarcity.

– Alessandra Heitmann
Photo: Flickr

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