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Cloud seeding: How the UAE is enhancing rainfall through technology

File photo
File photo

Abu Dhabi - The country has been recording huge amounts of rain because of a combination of nature and science.


Ismail Sebugwaawo

Published: Thu 22 Jul 2021, 3:45 PM

The UAE has been receiving continuous rainfall over the past two weeks, which has majorly been attributed to cloud seeding.

Rains lashed parts of the UAE on the first two days of Eid Al Adha, with more forecast for the weekend. The first day of Eid saw rains accompanied by lightning and thunder.

Dr. Ahmed Habib from the National Centre of Meteorology (NCM) earlier told Khaleej Times that during summer, the country experiences low pressure due to monsoon in India, which raises the temperatures, especially in the Eastern parts, with chances of rainy convective clouds.

He pointed out that the heavy to moderate rains in the country during July were due to convective cloud formation Eastward, which is typical during summer.

"Cloud seeding operations are continuing in the country to enhance the rains. If there is convective cloud formation, cloud seeding operations will take place to enhance the rains," Habib said.

How traditional technology enhances rainfall

Cloud seeding is a method of artificially encouraging a cloud to produce rain. It began in the UAE in the late 1990s, and since then, there has been an increase in the missions conducted annually. In 2019, the UAE conducted 247 missions, which was up from 184 in 2018.

Cloud seeding involves flying an aircraft to a cloud that has tiny rain droplets present. The aircraft shoots salt flares into the cloud to enhance rainfall.

Omar Al Yazeed, Director of Research at Training at the NMC, earlier explained that for a successful seeding, an aircraft is sent to the cumulus clouds in the early stages of development after experts forecast that they have the potential for rain. After collecting data, they conduct the seeding.

"And on determining the type of cumulus clouds with the best rain potential, the team then gets on standby at the Al Ain base waiting to conduct the actual operation," he said, explaining that a single operation may take between two to three hours to be completed, depending on the number of targeted clouds.

According to the NCM, in recent years, the country has been recording vast amounts of rain because of a combination of nature and science, with cloud seeding playing a significant role in triggering rainfall.

The UAE cloud seeding operational base is at Al Ain Airport because it is near the mountains and has a small window to reach the clouds.

Al Yazeed earlier said that currently, there is no technology that can measure the amount of rain generated through cloud seeding but stressed that it enhances the amount of precipitation in the cloud by between 30 and 35 per cent.

Ground based-seeding generators

Besides the aircraft, the NCM has been using ground-based seeding generators in its rain enhancement operations in the UAE since March 2019.

The new method employs environmentally friendly and alternative techniques, complementing the traditional one of cloud-seeding, which is carried out with the help of special aircraft.

The generators are fitted with 48 special flares that are loaded with salt crystals and fired into convective or warm clouds, accompanied by updraft or rising current of air. The updraft then sucks up the salt crystals into the clouds, explained an NCM official.

"The salts attract tiny water droplets and collide with others to enhance the coalescence process, which accelerates the growth of water droplets in the clouds into bigger ones that eventually leads to rainfall," he said.

Addileadsally, there are multiple research proposals that the UAE hopes to implement over the next few years.

In March 2021, the UAE said it was set to test drones that will fly into clouds and produce a small electrical charge to help them produce rain.

According to the National Centre of Meteorology, this new method could efficiently replace the traditional cloud-seeding one of depositing solid particles into the clouds.

These drones will instead change the balance of charge between rain droplets, encouraging them to merge and fall to the ground as rain. Charge emission technology uses a small and lightweight platform to deliver a charge into the clouds instead of traditional cloud seeding payloads, which require much larger aircraft. This method does not involve the emission of any solid particles into clouds such as silver iodide or salt.

The cloud seeding projects, managed by the UAE Research Programme for Rain Enhancement Science, continue to contribute to enhancing new knowledge of cloud seeding through dynamic scientific and technological innovations.

These efforts reiterate the UAE's global leadership in developing rain enhancement research, as well as its ambitious vision and commitment to utilising modern technology to make a real difference in human life across the world, especially in arid regions.


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