I t might sound straight out of a science fiction movie or Isaac Asimov’s books, but yes, we have the ability to modify weather. To an extent, of course. Because of the importance of weather in so many industries and our lives, continuous efforts go toward developing technologies that can help us manipulate the weather to our advantage.
We have the means to predict and prepare for upcoming weather, and luckily, to some extent, we can control it. Cloud seeding is the day’s topic, a discovery of cloud physicists regarding how to tweak the weather that has benefitted us for decades and can help reshape the future if used intelligently. But is it all safe? Does it actually help us that much, or are we playing God and taking risks? And how does it work exactly? These are the questions I will answer in the following, so if you want to learn more about the art of cloud seeding, stick with me until the end.
Controlling the weather sounds made up, but a few years ago, so did weather stations for home use. However, look where we are now. We have accessibly priced weather stations that we can use for hyper-localized weather prediction, devices that aren’t overly complicated to use, and collect data about ongoing weather to help foresee future weather changes. Unfortunately, these weather prediction devices rarely show the possibility of upcoming rain in many areas.
To cover our topic and continue talking about what seemed impossible but now isn’t, let’s start at the beginning and first define what a cloud is. It is a formation of tiny water droplets. Groups of these cloud droplets form ice crystals or water vapor. Since water vapor is not dense enough to transform into precipitation and fall to the ground, it rises and becomes cooled. During the process, it condenses around dust particles in the sky, known as condensation nuclei. When billions of these condensed water droplets unite, visible clouds are formed.
Now that we got the basics out of the way let’s talk about cloud seeding. So, what is it exactly? Cloud seeding has been around since the 1940s. It is an effort of scientists to sow clouds with small particles to provoke rain or snow. When it started, the inorganic compound silver iodide was used to create ice crystals in clouds. Even today, dry ice and silver iodide are used to induce precipitation.
For a cloud to create rain with large drops, it needs ice particles. Silver iodide is used in cloud seeding specifically for its structural resemblance to natural ice crystals. Silver iodide quickly expands when it reaches the top part of a growing cloud and gets exposed to the moisture inside. As the artificially created ice crystal becomes a large raindrop, it falls from the cloud to the ground.
But there are better solutions than silver iodide. In periods of drought, an extreme weather event that has a massive agricultural, economic and health impact, clouds might lack the ability to produce raindrops with the help of silver iodide. The droplets are much smaller, so a hygroscopic material or liquid propane is the solution to use instead.
But it’s the 2021 twist that the United Arab Emirates used that can make a big difference toward advancing cloud seeding as we know it. Aerial drones were used in the process; the distinction is that the drones cast an electric charge into the clouds, causing water droplets to combine and rainfall to appear much faster.
Here are the two ways in which cloud seeding can be conducted:
Fact: It takes only 1 gram of silver iodide to create approximately 10 trillion artificial ice crystals.
The benefits of cloud seeding are tightly related to how effectively the project is used. A perfect example is illustrated in this research article that covers May 2005 to June 2009 use of the Snowy Precipitation Enhancement Research Project. Thanks to the cloud seeding experiment in the Snowy Mountains of southeastern Australia, precipitation increased by 14% at the 3% significance level. In short, efforts worked.
We need weather like rain or snow in multiple industries, to keep natural balance, and for our health. Yes, our health and the weather are related topics. But I’m not only referring to the effect it has on blood sugar levels or other issues of the sort. Instead, I am referring to the impact that scarce rain and snow have on our water supply and agricultural stock.
To make things easier, let’s briefly classify and discuss the actual most essential benefits of this weather control technique:
Did you know that there is an actual international treaty put into application back in 1977 that bans weather modification technology for military and malicious purposes? Yes, we previously used cloud seeding as a weapon, although it was supposed to help us increase natural water supplies, get rid of draught, and amp energy production, to name a few. This happened during the Vietnam War when the U.S. set into motion Operation Popeye where the monsoon season in Vietnam was extended to flood the roads and rivers of enemies.
There are other ways in which cloud seeding can pose an issue for humans and the environment. We don’t necessarily have to use it as a tool for destruction for this to happen. Silver iodide is toxic to aquatic life, so precipitation affects our ecosystem directly. Luckily, nontoxic replacements have been found and are now used in most cases to prevent this occurrence and keep aquatic life safe.
People also hypothesize that cloud seeding operations can provoke flooding. There is no definitive proof in this direction, but the truth is that scientists are still observing the outcomes of using weather modification technology. So, for a while, we still won’t know for sure the adverse effects of this practice.
Although it’s not perfect since there are downsides to the practice and it has yet to be researched enough to fully understand, cloud seeding is welcomed for its beneficial aspects. Weather modification tech is controversial, and we should not play God unless we can handle the consequences, but the truth is that we need this tech.
We need to reduce the severity of hailstorms, bring more snow in areas where it’s becoming scarce due to climate change, and solve issues like drought and diminishing natural water supply. With time, I am sure that weather modification will be perfect, and there won’t be any repercussions. Or at least these will be minor enough to overlook. What is important is that we are figuring out solutions to control what past centuries thought would be impossible: the weather.
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