The National Center of Meteorology in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, has found a new way to make it rain. It’s using laser-beam-shooting drones to generate rainfall artificially.
Here’s how it works: The drones shoot laser beams into the clouds, charging them with electricity. The charge prompts precipitation by forcing water droplets together to create bigger raindrops, essentially electrifying the air to create rain.
This past March, the BBC reported that the UAE was looking to test the drone technology, which it developed in collaboration with the University of Reading in the UK.
The efforts are part of the country’s ongoing “quest to ensure water security” since the 1990s through the UAE Research Program for Rain Enhancement, according to the center.
Water security remains one of the UAE’s “main future challenges” as the country relies on groundwater for two-thirds of its water needs, according to the National Center of Meteorology website. The arid nation faces low rainfall level, high temperatures and high evaporation rates of surface water, the center says. Paired with increased demand due to high population growth, this puts the UAE in a precarious water security situation, according to the center.
But rain enhancement may “offer a viable, cost-effective supplement to existing water supplies,” especially amid diminishing water resources across the globe, the center said.“While most of us take free water for granted, we must remember that it is a precious and finite resource,” according to the center.
Cloud seeding projects may also be improving the UAE’s air quality in recent years, according to a 2021 study led by American University of Sharjah. So far, rain enhancement projects have centered on the country’s mountainous north-east regions, where cumulus clouds gather in the summer, according to the National Center of Meteorology website.
There have been successes in the U.S., as well as China, India, and Thailand. Long-term cloud seeding in the mountains of Nevada have increased snowpack by 10% or more each year, according to research published by the American Meteorological Society. A 10-year cloud seeding experiment in Wyoming resulted in 5-10% increases in snowpack, according to the State of Wyoming.
The practice is used in at least eight states in the western U.S. and in dozens of countries, the Scientific American reported. The UAE is one of the first countries in the Arab Gulf region to use cloud seeding technology, according to the National Center of Meteorology website.
It also doesn’t help with the country’s sweltering temperatures. On June 6, for example, Dubai recorded a sweltering temperature high of 125 degrees Fahrenheit.
Dubai’s rainmaking technology is not entirely dissimilar to cloud seeding, which has been used in the US since 1923 to combat prolonged periods of drought. Cloud seeding requires crushed-up silver iodide, a chemical used in photography, to help create water clusters in the air.
Forbes reported that the UAE has invested in nine rain-enhancement projects over the past few years, which cost around $15 million in total. The bulk of those projects have involved traditional cloud-seeding techniques.
Critics of the drone technology worry that it could unintentionally cause massive flooding. And they also worry about such technology being privatized, Forbes reported.
In the US, innovative solutions to the extreme effects of the climate crisis have been explored. Billionaire Bill Gates is backing the development of a sunlight-dimming technology that might help to achieve a global cooling effect by reflecting the sun’s rays from the planet’s atmosphere.
In the meantime, more than 80 wildfires are blazing across the US, devastating communities and destroying homes. On July 13, Death Valley in California recorded a temperature high of 128 degrees Fahrenheit, the Earth’s hottest temperature record since 2017.
By: Cheryl Teh