Artificial rainfall behind flash floods in UAE

Last Updated on April 18, 2024 3:33 am

In the last 24 hours, residents of the desert country of UAE have witnessed record heavy rainfall. The rainfall surpassed all records since the country began collecting and recording rainfall data in 1949. Rainfall has affected most parts of the country.

A desert country known for its dry climate and high temperatures has caused flash floods due to torrential rains. On Tuesday (April 16), the Middle East started raining with unprecedented thundershowers. This has created concerns about the adverse effects of climate change along with the disruption of civil life.

The average annual rainfall in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is less than 200 mm. The country’s temperature rises up to 50 degrees Celsius during summer. This has put enormous pressure on the UAE’s water sources, which depend on groundwater.

UAE has come up with some innovative ways to solve this problem of lack of rain. One of these is the generation of artificial rainfall through cloud seeding. It is a form of weather modification aimed at increasing rainfall.

What is cloud seeding?
Cloud seeding is a technique in which chemical stimulating agents are dispersed in clouds to stimulate the condensation process and increase precipitation. In this process, weather forecasters identify suitable clouds based on their observations of atmospheric conditions and the type of precipitation.

The United Arab Emirates first experimented with cloud seeding in 1982. In the early 2000s, the Gulf nation’s artificial precipitation program was strengthened with the help of collaborative scientific and technical research with the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Colorado, USA, the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, and NASA.

The program is carried out under the UAE Rainfall Enhancement Program (UAREP) managed by the National Meteorological Center (NCM) of the Emirates. Scientists involved in the program focus on analyzing the physical and chemical properties of the UAE’s atmosphere, particularly the effects of aerosols and pollution particles on cloud formation. Their objective was to identify an effective agent to stimulate cloud growth and ultimately increase precipitation.

Once a suitable cloud is identified, special aircraft equipped with hygroscopic flares are sent into the sky. These flares, attached to aircraft wings, contain salt-like material. Flares are fired upon reaching a certain cloud, which disperses the seed or seeding agent into the cloud.

The salt particles act as nuclei around which water particles tend to condense. Eventually the particles become heavy enough to fall as precipitation.

Describing the process, UAREP says the NCM has established a national network of 86 Automated Weather Stations (AWOS) for weather monitoring. Of these, six weather radars monitor the weather across the UAE and one upper air station. The center has also developed climate databases and helped develop high-accuracy numerical weather predictions and simulation software in the UAE.

It added that currently, NCM operates four Beechcraft King Air C90 aircraft from Al Ain Airport. It employs the latest technology and devices for cloud seeding and atmospheric research.

Environmental concerns
Despite the potential benefits of artificial precipitation through cloud seeding, concerns have been raised about its environmental impact and the safety of the seeding agents used. In response, NCM has taken necessary measures to ensure the safety and sustainability of its operations.

While some other countries use crystalline silver iodide for cloud seeding, which has raised environmental concerns, the UAE program refrains from using the harmful chemical. Instead, the country uses natural salt as a seeding agent.

NCM has developed its own seeding agent known as nano material. These include fine salts coated with titanium oxide. Various experiments are currently being conducted on this material to evaluate its effectiveness in increasing rainfall.

There are also other concerns about disrupting the natural order of nature. The region has experienced exceptional weather such as storms and heavy rainfall as well as unprecedented flooding. Some warn against interfering with the natural order, claiming that the flood is a form of nature taking revenge.

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