UAE turns to science to extract more precipitation from clouds

Hygroscopic flares are released during a cloud seeding flight operated by the National Meteorological Center between Al Ain and Al Hayer in the United Arab Emirates on August 24.

ABU DHABI (Reuters) – As a twin-turboprop plane takes off in the scorching desert sun with dozens of canisters of salt strapped to its wings, United Arab Emirates weather chief Abullah al-Hammadi scans weather maps on computer screens for cloud formations.

At an altitude of 2,743 meters, the plane drops flares into the most promising white clouds, hoping to trigger precipitation.

“Cloud seeding requires rain clouds to exist, and that’s a problem because that’s not always the case,” said Hammadi, head of rain enhancement operations at the Center. UAE National Meteorological Institute.

The United Arab Emirates, located in one of the hottest and driest regions on the planet, has led the effort to sow clouds and increase rainfall, which remains below 100 millimeters per year on average.

The effects of climate change, combined with a growing population and a diversified economy in tourism and other areas, have increased the demand for water in the United Arab Emirates, which has relied on expensive desalination plants that use sea water.

Officials say they believe cloud seeding can help. Abu Dhabi scientists are combining the firing of hygroscopic or water-attracting flares with the release of salt nanoparticles, a newer technology, into the clouds to stimulate and speed up the process of condensation and, hopefully, produce droplets large enough to then fall as rain.

“Cloud seeding increases precipitation rates by about 10% to 30% per year…According to our calculations, cloud seeding operations are much cheaper than the desalination process”, Hammadi said.

Other countries in the region, including Saudi Arabia and Iran, have announced similar plans as they face historic droughts.

Edward Graham, a meteorologist at the University of the Highlands and Islands in Britain, said the salt used in cloud seeding in the UAE does not harm the environment.

“In terms of carbon footprint, planes flying through clouds are just small planes, compared to the billions of cars on the planet and the huge planes making international air travel every day, it’s only a drop in the ocean,” he added. .

Pilots based at Al Ain airport in the United Arab Emirates must be ready for takeoff at all times, flying over the red-yellow desert before steering their aircraft into the clouds located on the screens of meteorologists.

“Cloud seeding is considered the second most difficult challenge for pilots,” said flyer Ahmed al-Jaberi. “When there is a cloud, we try to figure out how we have to get in and out of it and avoid thunderstorms or hail.”


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