The recent climatic changes in various regions around the world and the increased rate of environmental catastrophes have prompted the international scientific community to comprehensively analyse the artificial cloud manipulation methods (cloud seeding) being used by many countries, to develop newer methods, to determine their effectiveness and any possible side effects on the environment.
In the 1950s, over 20 nations began to actively manipulate clouds to provoke rain in drier regions, to disperse rain clouds during large-scale events or to prevent flooding and hail. The most widely used chemical products for this purpose are silver iodide and solid carbon dioxide (dry ice). Liquid propane, which quickly expands into gas, is also one of the actively used ingredients in cloud seeding due to the fact that it can lead to the formation of ice crystals during higher atmospheric temperatures than is possible with silver iodide. Meanwhile, the use of various hydroscopic materials – salt in particular – is also on the rise.
China is very actively involved in cloud seeding and has been using the technology since 1958. The Chinese National Leading Committee on Climate Change is considered to be the largest of its kind in the world and comprises 37,000 employees. In 2002 alone, China conducted 560,000 weather manipulation operations which resulted in 489.7 billion tonnes of precipitation and decreased the country’s economic losses due to droughts by roughly $10.4 billion. During the 2008 Olympic Games, China used 30 planes, 4,000 rocket installations and 7,000 shells to scatter chemicals into the air to disperse the clouds. In February of 2009, after four months of drought, cloud seeding was also used to artificially cause snowfall in Beijing, which then lasted for three days and led to the closure of 12 main roads around the city.
In recent years, a host of countries have launched additional programmes for actively manipulating the weather and rain clouds. As such, in 2012, China created an additional special fund in the amount of $26.4 billion to induce artificial rain and snowfall in the country.
A similar programme was developed by the American National Centre for Atmospheric Research in 2010 and the country allocated $8.8 million towards it. This programme provides for the installation of 24 generators for heating the silver iodide and acetone compound on the ground in the mountains of Wyoming, which will be installed by Weather Modification Inc. This substance will then be dispersed in the atmosphere with light planes to induce snowfalls, significantly increasing the amount of melt water in the springtime for agricultural needs and leading to subsequent cheaper (up to 10 times cheaper according to rough estimates) water supplies.
Today, a substantial number of companies in various countries offer their own cloud seeding services. In particular, these include large American companies like Aero Systems Incorporated, Atmospherics Incorporated, North American Weather Consultants, Weather Modification Incorporated, Weather Enhancement Technologies International and Seeding Operations and Atmospheric Research (SOAR).
However, provoking artificial rains often leads to political conflict both between neighbouring nations and between administrative regions with a country. Some examples of this are the periodic claims arising from various Chinese regions blaming neighbouring regions in intentionally appropriating precipitation as well as Iran’s claims against its border nations.
According to various studies, the current weather manipulation technology has not been sufficiently evaluated in terms of its risk to potentially contaminate and damage the environment. It is presently known that silver iodide can have a fairly significant negative effect both on people and mammals. In 1995 and then in 2004, independent expert groups conducted environmental studies in Sierra Nevada (USA) and Australia which confirmed the reasonable concern exhibited by environmentalists about the harmful effects of dispersing silver dioxide and its adsorption. Taking into account the documented accumulation of silver oxides on the soil across a number of regions, scientists began to claim that it was causing the growth of seaweed on empty glacial lakes (which often happens during any sort of contamination), while also causing the disappearance of animal species (for example, the wild opossums) in Australia’s mountainous regions.
Other studies conducted at the Tel Aviv University under Israeli professor Alpert Pinhas showed that over the last 50 years of Israel artificially manipulating clouds, the annual amount of precipitation did not change when compared with the previous period. Based on these findings, the experts suggest that artificial precipitation programmes are fairly ineffective. All clouds have a similar potential after they have been artificially manipulated, although the orographic clouds that form while passing over higher terrain do have a higher potential for creating precipitation.
This is why many nations are currently searching for new environmentally-friendly and cost-effective means of artificially manipulating clouds. In this aspect, scientists’ attention has been drawn to the latest research conducted by the Swiss in the United Arab Emirates, where Zurich company Meteo Systems International is currently successfully testing a new weather manipulation technology to create artificial precipitation. The company has installed 10-metre high metal umbrellas in the desert which are able to charge the air with electricity. These Swiss installations create negative ions that promote the formation of rain clouds in the event that the air has no less than 30% humidity. After being turned on 74 times over 112 days, the installation has caused rain to fall 52 times. Meteo Systems International believes that its invention can successfully replace the expensive sea water desalination plants in the UAE and it will cost 8 times cheaper according to preliminary estimations.
Because weather manipulation technology can be used to inflict significant damage to an enemy by causing floods, cyclones, typhoons or by controlling the economics of the agricultural market, in 1977, the UN passed a convention banning the “Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques”. Despite this, scientists do not eliminate the possibility that the ruling circles in various nations will develop secret programmes to artificially manipulate the weather and use these technologies to harm other nations.
Vladimir Platov, Middle Eastern expert, exclusively for the internet magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.