Cloud seeding is the artificial modification of the weather, particularly the increase of rainfall using different techniques. The main aim of cloud seeding is to enhance precipitation from clouds. The concept of cloud seeding was introduced after World War II and is used in dry areas where the cloud precipitation efficiency is below unity (less than 1 inch).
Cloud seeding experiments were first conducted in 1946 by Vincent J Schafer. Since then, aircraft, ground generators, rockets, and cannons have been used to conduct cloud seeding.
There are mainly three cloud seeding methods:
1. Static cloud seeding:
Initially, it was believed that clouds were deficient in ice nuclei. An ice-nuclei is any particle that acts as a nucleus for the formation of an ice crystal.
Hence, static cloud seeding aimed to increase the efficiency of precipitation by having an optimum concentration of ice crystals in supercooled clouds.
Static seeding is achieved by spreading a chemical such as silver iodide into the clouds. The silver iodide provides an ice nucleus for the already present moisture in the clouds, which makes the rain clouds more effective at dispersing their water.
2. Dynamic cloud seeding:
The main aim of dynamic cloud seeding is to enhance or boost the vertical air currents in clouds; this would vertically process more water through the clouds, increasing the precipitation.
Dynamic cloud seeding is a complex technique comprised of 11 stages. An unexpected outcome in any one of the stages could disturb the whole process.
Hence dynamic cloud seeding is less reliable than static cloud seeding.
3. Hygroscopic cloud seeding:
Hygroscopic cloud seeding enhances precipitation by dispersing hygroscopic particles or salts through the lower parts of clouds.
These particles or salts keep growing as water joins with them, and hence, they increase the precipitation formed, which results in increased rainfall.
Cloud seeding has been in use for a long time. For example, it was applied during the 2008 Beijing Olympics to prevent rain during the ceremonies. Additionally, arid regions like Mali and Thailand have been using cloud seeding for decades.
Cloud seeding has been used in mountainous areas of the United States since the 1950s. The United Arab Emirates invested 5 million USD in the UAE Research Program for Rain Enhancement Science in 2015.
But, even this revolutionary technique has its advantages and disadvantages.
1. Cloud seeding can make the Earth’s extremely dry and hot areas livable.
1. Particular weather conditions are required for cloud seeding to be effective. For instance, cloud seeding will not work in clear skies.
2. It can optimize crop yields and help improve a region’s economy.
2. Cloud seeding is expensive.
3. Cloud seeding can be used to reduce the impact of droughts.
3. The impact of long-term exposure to cloud-seeding is unknown; the chemicals used could be hazardous and could lead to soil/water pollution.
4. Cloud seeding can be used to solve the water scarcity crisis.
4. The efficiency of cloud seeding is still under research.
Can Cloud Seeding Stop Forest Fires?
There have been cases where cloud seeding was used as an aid to stop forest fires. One such example is that of Russia. In July 2020, Russian firefighters used cloud seeding to bring rainfall over the wildfires in Siberia.
On the other hand, meteorologists say that there aren’t any ideal clouds during a wildfire since wildfires occur in a dry climate. Also, cloud seeding is not reliable; hence its usage during a wildfire is not advised.
Some scientists believe that there are more effective, dependable methods to combat wildfire, such as hydrogel formulations.
Can Cloud Seeding Reduce Rainfall?
The idea that cloud seeding can indirectly reduce the rainfall in an area has not been substantiated. In fact, according to some reports, there is evidence that cloud seeding in a particular area has increased the rainfall in downwind regions.
This has been documented in the 30-year long rain enhancement program of the Colorado River Municipal Water District.
Cloud Seeding and Droughts
Can Cloud Seeding Help Drought?
Cloud seeding cannot completely solve the problem of drought, but it can help improve the conditions. According to Katja Friedrich, a researcher studying the issue, “Cloud seeding needs to be part of a broader water plan that involves conserving water efficiently.”
Cloud seeding is being looked at as a very viable option to aid drought-stricken areas, especially in the West.
Can Cloud Seeding Cause Drought?
So far, there haven’t been any indications that cloud seeding causes drought. However, cloud seeding can help areas struck by drought by increasing the precipitation.
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