Science behind cloud seeding relies on funding for results

A winner of the UAE Rain Enhancement Programme award on Tuesday said the uncertainty about whether rain could be produced on demand proved the importance of funding.

From left: Sultan Al Jaber, Minister of State and Chairman of Masdar, stands with UAE Rain Enhancement Programme award winners Prof Giles Harrison of the University of Reading, Prof Hannele Korhonen of the Finnish meteorological firm FMI, and Dr Paul Lawson of American firm Spec Inc. Christopher Pike / The National
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ABU DHABI // A winner of the UAE Rain Enhancement Programme award on Tuesday said the uncertainty about whether rain could be produced on demand proved the importance of funding.

“That’s why we’re doing science, to try and unravel more of the effectiveness of rain enhancement,” said Dr Paul Lawson, one of three beneficiaries of this year’s US$5 million award, announced on Tuesday.

“It’s like doing research on humans – every one is different, every cloud is different. If we can understand some of the science about it then we can do a better job.”

Dr Lawson said the award could help to push the science where it needs to be, given the relative lack of funding it received before by the National Centre of Meteorology and Seismology, who organise the award, stepped in.

“There was never funding like this for basic research in the field,” he said. “There was funding for operational cloud-seeding programmes but that was more of a shoot-and-see approach.”

Dr Lawson’s project is investigating new approaches to rain enhancement that use ice production in clouds.

Prof Hannele Korhonen from Finland, whose work on atmospheric aerosols was another of this year’s winners, said the effectiveness of rain enhancement could be improved with funding to better understand the basics behind it.

“Because the atmospheric conditions are so variable, in some cases a project will increase rain while in others it probably doesn’t, and this is one of the reasons to get a better idea of the efficacy and consequences of the science,” Prof Korhonen said.

She said that despite more than 60 years of research, there was still a lot to be understood about rain and clouds because of their differing properties.

The third winner, UK scientist Prof Giles Harrison, was awarded for his work on electric properties of clouds and how they relate to rain.

The three ideas were selected from 91 global scientific research proposals submitted by teams representing leading international institutions and organisations.

Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Presidential Affairs, spoke of the importance of the awards, which were part of Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week.

“The UAE is playing an active role in driving research in science and technology to identify solutions to tackle global water security challenges,” Sheikh Mansour said. “This comes in support of the ambitious innovation and energy strategies of our country.

“This cutting-edge research could make a real difference for countries suffering from droughts across the world.

“The success of the first and second cycles of the UAE research programme for rain enhancement testifies to the importance of its goals and demonstrates the excellence of its execution.”

Dr Abdullah Al Mandoos, director of the NCMS, said the programme was bringing new insights that could have wider applications.

“Thanks to the UAE’s vision, we can look forward to a continued international effort in the field of rain enhancement that could have a real impact on water sustainability in developing regions across the world,” Dr Al Mandoos said.

American Charles Hatfield is credited as being the first person to make it rain on demand using science.

In 1915, using $US10,000 donated by the city of San Diego to end a severe drought, he reportedly produced so much rain that valleys in southern California flooded. Mr Hatfield never shared his “secret formula”.

Some attributed this act of ‘rain-calling’ to meteorology and the timing of the seasons. Others called it a hoax.

Registration for next year's award is now open. Applicants can submit a letter of intent at