What does it take to make it rain more in the UAE?

To manage rain and water scarcity, the UAE is encouraging international partnerships in research and attracting innovative ideas

Puddles on Abu Dhabi's roads after a spell of rain. Khushnum Bhandari / The National
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Rain is not just a natural phenomenon, but a symbol of life itself. By working to enhance rainfall as the sole renewable source of fresh water, we can safeguard a future for generations. In this way, rain becomes a symbol of hope – a reminder that actions today shape the world of tomorrow. The UAE Research Programme for Rain Enhancement Science (UAEREP) serves as a rallying call to ensure a sustainable future for all.

The initiative could not have come at a more critical time. As we are reminded once again today on UN World Water Day, countries across the world face a looming threat of water scarcity in light of climate change projections, which will have far-reaching impacts on sustainable development, food security and well-being. The UN predicts that by 2025, half the world’s population will live in water-stressed areas, making the need for innovative solutions to manage water resources even more pressing. This is where the UAEREP has intervened, establishing itself as a global hub for applied research in the field of rain enhancement.

The importance of the initiative was highlighted at the sixth edition of the International Rain Enhancement Forum (IREF) hosted by UAEREP earlier this year. Gathering international and regional experts and several country representatives, IREF presented the latest research and development efforts across a spectrum of rain enhancement applications. Some of these include cloud seeding impact evaluation, solar vortex towers and thermal jet machines for cloud formation, acoustic wave impacts on rainfall generation, drone technology and AI-informed cloud seeding decision making platforms.

The UAEREP’s leading position in this sphere of applied research goes beyond such gatherings; we ought to consider the primary factors that led to the programme’s success, including the level of investment, research output and intellectual property development, technology demonstrations and the collaborative approach fostered by the UAE National Centre of Meteorology.

One of the key pillars of this approach is innovation, whereby the programme seeks out fresh ideas and state-of-the-art technologies that can be applied to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of rain enhancement processes. Through its biennial cycles of funding, the programme has attracted proposals from scientists and researchers from universities and industries across the world. These proposals are merit-reviewed and evaluated based on their innovativeness, scientific feasibility and potential impact. By funding and promoting such ideas, the UAEREP is pushing the boundaries of rainfall enhancement applications and establishing it as a key aspect of water security.

Rain enhancement is an increasingly important scientific field. And our emphasis on out-of-the-box thinking has led to the development of new techniques and approaches for cloud seeding, cloud formation and other critical aspects of rain enhancement. For example, one research proposal funded by the UAEREP is using AI algorithms to optimise the timing and location of cloud seeding missions. This approach could revolutionise the field of rain enhancement and provide more accurate and cost-effective seeding operations.

Collaboration proved to be the pinnacle of our achievements. By encouraging partnerships between the international research community, and by bringing together different perspectives and ideas, the UAEREP is helping to create a dynamic and diverse community of experts. This collaboration has led to the creation of new alliances, joint ventures and innovative solutions.

The partnership with well-known organisations such as the World Meteorological Organisation, the US Space Agency (Nasa) and the National Centre for Atmospheric Research has helped the programme connect with leading international institutions and experts and become an active and leading facilitator of knowledge transfer.

We also funded research proposals that involved collaboration between scientists from the UAE and abroad leading to the development of new seeding materials and methods that are relevant to arid and semi-arid regions around the world. For example, the University of Reading in the UK evaluated the effectiveness of electric charge emission in modifying the behaviour of cloud droplets in the UAE environment, consequently enhancing rainfall in the country.

The programme’s latest cycle is specifically focused on enhancing cloud formation and rain enhancement and is offering up to $1.5 million for each selected research proposal. This constitutes a significant investment in this domain and demonstrates the UAE’s commitment to finding innovative ways to tackle water scarcity. The willingness of countries to collaborate and share knowledge, experience and technology is a testament to our success in bringing this critical area to the forefront of research and development prospects.

The fact that the fifth cycle of the programme is reaching out to researchers and institutions from both the public and private sectors is particularly noteworthy, as this will ensure that brightest minds from around the world are involved.

The UAEREP is just one example of the UAE’s efforts to promote sustainable practices and find new and creative ways to tackle the world’s most pressing issues. This cycle of the UAEREP assumes special significance as the country is marking 2023 as the Year of Sustainability and gearing up to host the climate summit Cop28. I am certain that the programme will continue to advance the field of rain enhancement and that our efforts will have a lasting global impact.

Published: March 22, 2023, 4:00 AM