UAE could deploy drones to boost cloud seeding efforts

Field tests raise hope of even more successful rain enhancement missions

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The National Centre of Meteorology (NCM) is considering deploying drones to boost its cloud seeding programme.

It follows key field tests in the US state of Colorado to test the capabilities of unmanned aerial vehicles.

The three-week campaign represents one of the first times drones have been used in seeding and it is hoped the findings could "fundamentally change" the way rain enhancement operations are conducted.

Eric Frew’s research campaign marks an important technology demonstration that could fundamentally change the way we conduct rain enhancement operations in the future
Alya Al Mazroui

The research was led by Prof Eric Frew of the University of Colorado and was carried out using three drones. Two were loaded with complex instruments to take cloud measurements, while the third seeded clouds.

Scientists successfully conducted missions using autonomous observation and delivery algorithms to guide drones based on simulations and radar data.

Now the drones will be sent to the NCM for trials in the UAE to assess how they could be incorporated into the Emirates' cloud seeding programme.

“Eric Frew’s research campaign marks an important technology demonstration that could fundamentally change the way we conduct rain enhancement operations in the future using autonomous unmanned aircraft systems," said Abdulla Al Mandous, director general of the NCM.

"The deployment of such advanced technologies will allow our scientists to improve their understanding of cloud formation processes in the UAE and other arid and semi-arid regions and carry out more reliable and efficient rain enhancement operations.

"This will go a long way in fulfilling NCM’s objective of building new local and regional capacities in meteorology and water resource management.”

Cloud seeding is a method used to induce more rain from a cloud. Seeding involves shooting a salt flare into the cloud. Salt naturally attracts water, the water particles then collide with others, get bigger and hopefully fall as rain.

The UAE's seeding programme began in the 1990s and authorities conduct hundreds of missions every year when the conditions are right.

The NCM said seeding can boost rainfall from an individual cloud by as much as 35 per cent in a "clean atmosphere" and by up to 15 per cent in a dusty one. The lower figure is probably more representative of the UAE but authorities say more studies are needed.

In a country with about 100mm of rain a year, seeding could provide water for crops and is significantly cheaper than desalination.

The UAE has also established the Research Programme for Rain Enhancement Science to determine how effective seeding can be. The programme has also awarded millions of dollars of grants to pioneers in rain enhancement.

Prof Frew was among the winners in 2018 awarded a $5 million grant for their work in rain enhancement.

Alya Al Mazroui, director of the programme, said automated technology could significantly increase the ability to conduct successful seeding operations as it gives more accuracy.

"Through harnessing new technology advances, the programme plays a pivotal role in improving the effectiveness of cloud seeding and achieving global water security," she said.

Updated: October 30, 2021, 4:13 PM