Cloud seeding scientists win $1.5m grants to boost rainfall in UAE

Funds will help support innovative solutions to water security

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Two scientists have each secured $1.5 million grants to support the UAE's efforts to boost cloud seeding and improve water security.

The winners of the fourth grant cycle of the UAE Research Programme for Rain Enhancement Science were selected following a global search, which began with 81 proposals from 378 scientists and researchers affiliated with 159 institutions across 37 countries.

Dr Bradley Baker, of the US-based National Centre for Atmospheric Research, and Dr Luca Delle Monache, from the University of California-San Diego, will use the funds to carry out their three-year research projects, which will include testing in the Emirates.

They were announced as beneficiaries of the grants at an event held at the UAE pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai on Thursday.

The ceremony was attended by Dr Sultan Al Jaber, Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology, and Faris Mohammed Al Mazrouei, adviser at the Ministry of Presidential Affairs and chairman of the National Centre of Meteorology's board of trustees.

Cloud seeding has been integral to the UAE's drive to boost rainfall in arid desert climates for decades.

Increasing rain is viewed as key to supporting water needs as well as aiding agriculture, allowing the Emirates to be less reliant on food imports and to become self-sufficient.

More than 100 meteorological stations are located across the country, including a network of radars, custom-designed aircraft and a factory to produce high-quality hygroscopic salt flares for seeding.

Using nanomaterials to enhance rain

Dr Roelof Bruintjes, who accepted the award on behalf of Dr Baker, said that their research proposal involves using hygroscopic nanomaterials to enhance rain.

He said the salt flares the UAE currently uses are too small for the types of cloud that are over the country.

“They are using salt flares, but they are very small. With the nanomaterial, it attracts water more quickly,” he told The National.

“The nanomaterials are salt particles with a nano-layer, tritium chloride, which attracts water more rapidly. Because every crystal in the atmosphere forms on a particle, depending on its size, you get either bigger or smaller droplets.

“We want the droplets and particles to collide quickly, so they become bigger droplets, creating far more efficient rain.”

How cloud seeding works

How cloud seeding works

Scientists at Abu Dhabi’s Khalifa University developed the nanomaterials in the first cycle of the rain enhancement programme.

Dr Bruintjes said his centre would send the nanomaterials into the clouds using an aircraft with a special instrument capable of firing them.

They will perform about 40 to 50 hours of flight time in the summer of 2023 to test the method in the UAE.

The instruments can also measure aerosol particles and droplet size as well as take images of the particles, which will help researchers see the evolution of rainfall in a cloud.

He said measuring ice crystals in the cloud is also important because they can grow bigger than water droplets. Once they melt, they fall down as rain.

Using an artificial intelligence algorithm

Dr Monache’s research proposal involves developing a prototype artificial intelligence algorithm that would predict possibilities of rainfall.

“We use information coming from satellite data, radars and numerical weather predictions. We blend all of this information together to come up with the estimates,” Dr Monache said.

“At the end of the three years, one of the main deliverables would be a prototype of a predictive capability based on algorithms that we develop.”

Updated: January 14, 2022, 7:32 AM