UAE to take cloud seeding research to new heights

Unique experiments designed to generate rainfall are being carried out in the country

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Masts that electrically charge air molecules to produce rain drops could be the next big thing in cloud seeding operations.

Speaking at a forum in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday, experts described how a number of ambitious new projects may help to address water scarcity in the region.

Professor Maarten Ambaum from the University of Reading in the UK, said moisture in clouds naturally carried an electric charge or ions.

But by altering the size of the charges, scientists could potentially modify water droplet growth rates and increase the chance of rainfall.

"Our project focuses on atmospheric electricity and the use of charging techniques to merge small [cloud] droplets to form larger ones," Prof Ambaum told The National.

Our project focuses on atmospheric electricity and the use of charging techniques to merge small [cloud] droplets to form larger ones

“We have even looked at the possibilities of putting up big masts with ion emitters.

“By putting an electric charge on drops, there should be a higher chance of small drops sticking together.

“And bigger rain drops have less chance of evaporating before reaching the ground.”

Traditional cloud seeding methods have involved aeroplanes firing salt crystals into clouds via the use of flares.

As the cloud sucks up the crystals they attract tiny particles of water which collide and become heavier. The water then falls as rain.

Now, Prof Ambaum said researchers were also looking at the possibility of using an electric charge to better generate wet weather.

He said tall masts, which would be ground-based structures about 10 metres tall, could be a means of delivering a larger charge into clouds, even low-lying fog.

The ongoing project is currently being supported by the UAE Research Programme for Rain Enhancement Science.

It was among three teams who were awarded a share of an Dh18 million ($5m) prize fund in 2016.

On Tuesday, progress on the project was shared among experts at the final day of the International Rain Enhancement Forum.

Alya Al Mazroui, director of the UAEREP, also made a call for submissions for the next year’s award.

She said an acceleration in climate change now meant there was a renewed emphasis on finding and maintaining reliable water resources.

“We welcome innovative project proposals that target new research areas in rain enhancement science,” she said.

“This will solidify the status and impact of the projects supported by the programme and take rain enhancement research to new heights.”

UAEREP will start accepting new research proposals in January next year, with project requirements announced in June this year.

Launched in 2015, the international research initiative was designed to advance the science and technology of rain enhancement.

To date, it has received 370 proposals from 647 institutes in 68 countries.