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Cloud seeding

ScienceCloud seeding

Several countries do “cloud seeding” to get rain and fight against drought

Summer in the northern hemisphere is getting longer and drier than normal each year. Temperatures are getting higher at this time of year and water shortages, lack of rainfall and drought are reaching unprecedented levels. Many countries are looking for ways to evade the climate crisis, the forecasts for which are not good because of the deteriorating environment. And one of the methods being used is known as “cloud seeding.”

Cloud seeding is a form of climate manipulation, a practice that has existed for decades, but this method of geoengineering is gaining momentum in recent years. The idea is to intensify the use of artificial rainfall, causing precipitation to “fall” water from the sky.

The latest territory to join this trend is China. The longest heat wave in decades and the depletion of water reserves, as is the case of the Yangtze River, which has its lowest levels in years, has led the Asian giant to consider this type of solution.

According to the South China Morning Post, various meteorological departments in the provinces of Hubei and Hunan are using “cloud chasers”, airplanes that shoot rockets with condensing substances such as silver iodide rods into the sky to seed clouds and cause rainfall. The Chinese authorities want to cover 5.5 million square kilometers with these artificial rains, more or less 60% of its territory, with programs of this type by the middle of the decade.

But it is not the only country to use it. In the United States, for example, states such as Colorado, California or Utah bet on similar operations throughout the spring, following forecasts that the summer could be harsh. Meanwhile, in 2019, the United Arab Emirates was experiencing harsh weeks of drought, with temperatures exceeding 50ºC. With no rain or humidity, water shortages were beginning to be felt, forcing authorities to deploy an army of drones ready for artificial cloud seeding. A total of 219 operations took place to combat the droughts, and a method that is still in use today.

Scientists doubt whether this method is the best. It is true that, in the short term, it generates small water droplets that grow and merge together and eventually fall as precipitation. But experts caution that it is neither a simple, nor a magical solution, just as in the long term it has, really, little impact at the level of generally more water in the sky.

Experiments that produce snow or rain require the right type of clouds with sufficient moisture and the right temperature and wind conditions. The percentage increases are small and it is difficult to know when snow or rain fell naturally and when they are triggered by seeding.

A 2014 investigation in the Wyoming mountains noted that, despite the region being suitable for cloud seeding, the increase would not exceed 1.5%. On the other hand, a 2020 study explained that just twenty minutes after seeding, a snowfall was recorded that dumped a tenth of a millimeter of snow in just over an hour. This may not be as promising as was once thought.

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