Academic trio with ‘heads in the clouds’ win $5m UAE rain enhancement research grant

The UAE Research Programme for Rain Enhancement Science on Tuesday awarded the researchers for projects that expand global water solutions through science and technology.

The UAE aims to boost water security through rain enhancement research. Courtesy National Centre for Meteorology and Seismology
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ABU DHABI // Having your head in the clouds is usually an unproductive use of time, but for three academics, doing just that has won them US$5 million (Dh18.4m) in research funding.

The UAE Research Programme for Rain Enhancement Science on Tuesday awarded the researchers for projects that expand global water solutions through science and technology.

It is the largest prize in the field and is shared over three years among the winners: Prof Masataka Murakami of the University of Nagoya in Japan; Prof Linda Zou of Masdar Institute of Science and Technology; and Prof Volker Wulfmeyer of the University of Hohenheim in Germany.

“Water is the most important prerequisite for life. The control of clouds and enhancement of rain in arid regions has been the greatest vision of mankind,” said Prof Wulfmeyer, who has studied ways to improve the detection of clouds, improve cloud-seeding and understand where clouds gather.

Cloud seeding is the process of artificially creating clouds to bring about rain through dispersing substances in the air.

“My team is convinced that we can make it a reality by understanding the evolution of rain in clouds,” said Prof Wulfmeyer.

Prof Murakami developed algorithms that can identify clouds capable of creating rain.

“The work we do today isn’t like the old cloud seeding. This is more advanced, and more involved in finding solutions in the way that nature works,” he said.

Prof Zou’s research uses nanotechnology to accelerate water condensation so as to be able to design clouds with more rain potential.

“We have been working on finding solutions to cloud seeding for decades now, but my work is about determining efficiency through using nanotechnology,” she said.

“The work is the first step and now with my research we can build upon it.”

The programme has launched a new website and is accepting a second round of proposals for next year’s funding. But the larger aim is to improve water security through international cooperation in research on rain enhancement.

Research areas addressed in the programme include the fundamental understanding of rainfall enhancement, data modelling, analysis and evaluation, as well as experimental design, technologies and instrumentation.

Alya Al Mazroui, the programme’s manager, said the award was attracting the attention of the scientific community, particularly those working in rain enhancement.

Three hundred and twenty-five scientists from 151 organisations submitted proposals for the award following the programme’s launch last January. Anonymous reviewers from a selection committee then provided feedback to 78 research teams on the strengths and weaknesses of their preliminary proposals.

The committee later selected proposals with creative ideas on cloud forecasting and modification, modelling and the use of advanced cloud-seeding agents.

“We hope that the research projects that were presented in the first cycle will shape the base for the following cycles, paving the road to effective solutions to the issues of global water security,” said Ms Al Mazroui.

The UAE, which has an arid climate, was no stranger to dealing with water shortages and could thus play a leading role in water security, said Dr Sultan Al Jaber, Minister of State and UAE Special Envoy for Energy and Climate Change.

“The world is facing unsustainable demand – 85 per cent [of people] live in the driest places of the planet and 1.8 billion [people] by 2050 will be affected by water scarcity,” he said.

The award winners were ­honoured at a gala dinner at Emirates Palace, held under the patronage of Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Presidential Affairs.

“This world-class programme offers a new window of opportunity for the UAE to make a real difference in the global quest for new options and solutions to water security issues,” said Sheikh Mansour.