The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is planning to maximize cloud seeding technology to tackle water scarcity, especially considering the region’s dry climate.

Back in the 1990s, the UAE started using cloud seeding, a method to make clouds produce more rain. Led by Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the UAE’s vice president, they invested up to $20 million by the early 2000s for cloud seeding research. Collaborating with renowned institutions like the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado and NASA, the UAE set the stage for its cloud seeding program.

Need of Cloud Seeding in the UAE

This initiative is urgent because the region is vulnerable to climate change impacts, worsened by rising global temperatures. With an average rainfall of less than 200 millimeters annually, the UAE faces a sharp contrast to places like London and Singapore, where rain is much more plentiful. Additionally, scorching summer temperatures reaching up to 50 degrees Celsius make water scarcity even worse, especially for agriculture.

According to the United Nations, by 2025, around 1.8 billion people worldwide will have serious water scarcity issues, with the Middle East standing out as one of the hardest-hit areas. So, the UAE’s decision to use cloud seeding technology is a proactive step to tackle water scarcity challenges head-on.

At the core of this effort lies the National Center of Meteorology (NCM) in Abu Dhabi, which serves as the primary coordinator of cloud seeding activities. With a dedication of over 1,000 hours annually to cloud seeding, the NCM operates with a well-equipped infrastructure, featuring a network of advanced weather radars and more than 60 weather stations. This setup enables meteorologists to identify suitable clouds for seeding, ultimately amplifying rainfall.

The process of cloud seeding involves specialized aircraft carrying hygroscopic flares loaded with salt components. Once the right clouds are identified, pilots release these flares, which prompt the formation of ice crystals or raindrops within the clouds. This leads the clouds to release more raindrops than they would naturally.

Process of Cloud Seeding

Cloud seeding is a process used to boost rainfall by encouraging clouds to produce more raindrops. At the National Center of Meteorology (NCM) in Abu Dhabi, experts keep a close eye on the weather to find clouds suitable for seeding. When the right clouds are identified, special airplanes equipped with flares loaded with salt are sent up.

These flares, weighing about 1 kilogram each, are designed to burn slowly and release salt particles into the clouds. Once in the clouds, these particles help to create more raindrops. Unlike some older methods that might use potentially harmful substances, the UAE’s program uses natural salts, which are safer for the environment.

The NCM is also working on new materials, like nano materials coated with titanium oxide, which could be even more effective. These materials are being tested to ensure they work well and are environmentally friendly. This shows the UAE’s commitment to finding innovative and sustainable solutions to water scarcity.

Criticism, Cost and Practice

While some critics have raised concerns about the ethics and environmental impact of cloud seeding, supporters emphasize its scientific basis. Notably, the UAE’s program avoids using silver iodide, a common seeding agent, due to environmental worries. Instead, they use natural salts, ensuring safety and environmental responsibility.

“Our specialized aircraft(s) only use natural salts, and no harmful chemicals,” agencies reported NCM as saying.

Last year, the NCM revealed plans to enhance and modernize the program by incorporating additional advanced cloud seeding aircraft into its fleet. The Wx-80 turboprop aircraft can hold more cloud-seeding materials and comes with advanced safety features and other systems, as mentioned by the organization last year.

Prior to this change, the NCM primarily depended on Beechcraft KingAir C90 planes for their cloud seeding missions.

Cloud seeding usually costs between $0.50 and $1.00 per acre, but it can vary based on factors like area size and seeding method.

As of this time last year, the cloud seeding operation cost roughly Dh29,000 (US$8,000) for every flight hour, and on average, more than 900 hours of cloud seeding operations were done every year.

China has the world’s biggest cloud seeding system in the world, firing silver iodide rockets into the sky to increase rainfall over dry regions, including Beijing.

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