x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Cloudy with a chance of brainstorms

Meteorology centre 'will listen to anyone' to increase rainfall.

Rain clouds scattered over Al Wathba area near Abu Dhabi.
Rain clouds scattered over Al Wathba area near Abu Dhabi.

DUBAI // The weather bureau is calling for ideas from scientists around the world on how to improve rainfall in the Emirates and ease dwindling water supplies.

The country's National Centre for Meteorology and Seismology is seeking techniques for cloud seeding, cloud formation and other types of weather modification.

It has said it will spare no expense in funding research.

"If the idea is promising and has a good scientific basis, we will fund it," said Omar Alyazeedi, director of the research and development at the centre.

"The authorities here take these matters regarding weather modification and water scarcity very seriously, and they will give full support to any promising technology."

The centre put out an appeal to scientists within the UAE and around the world through Facebook last week.

"We just want to hear from anybody," said Mr Alyazeedi. "We will not turn anyone away and we will listen to anyone."

The country has had an active cloud-seeding project since at least 2001.The weather centre operates a small jet that regularly flies to carry out seeding. The last seeding was performed last weekend.

Cloud seeders fire salt particles into rainclouds. Water comes together around the particles and becomes rain.

Seeding does not cause rain, but can increase it by up to 20 per cent.

Mr Alyazeedi said it was time to look at particles other than salt.

"The whole world has been working with the same materials for 50 years," he said. "Nanotechnology is available now, so it might be possible to re-engineer these particles so they will interact better with the cloud."

The weather bureau has proposed a project with the National Centre for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Colorado, which could look at just that.

"From the molecular level, you can build up particles to how you want them to be," said Roelof Bruintjes, a meteorologist with NCAR.

Over the past 10 years, the UAE's weather bureau has also looked at the idea of ionisation, to create clouds by sending negative ions into the atmosphere.

"All the projects cost a lot of money but in the end we didn't get any results," said Mr Alyazeedi. "That's why we closed this idea of ionisation. We are not going to do any more in it."

Most recently, the Swiss company Meteo Systems carried out an experiment using giant lampshade-shaped ionisers in Al Ain, in a bid to make rainclouds.

The company is closing its UAE office and moving to India, Indonesia or Thailand.

Charlie Coghlan, chief executive of Meteo, said the study was funded entirely by the company.

"Our operations took place over the summer of 2010 in the Al Ain region and during that time there were a number of rain events where we are confident that we influenced raincloud formation," Mr Coghlan said.

"The local meteorological conditions mean it is impossible to determine whether the trial was a success, and it would take many years to prove up in the highly variable meteorological conditions in Abu Dhabi."

Mr Coghlan said the cost to the company over several years would be too high.

"We are proud of our contribution, at our own expense, to the effort under way to secure plentiful supplies of scarce water in the UAE, and are confident that in time our technology could provide a potential solution to meeting the water challenges of the country," he said.

Although cloud seeding is a disputed science, ionisation is not regarded as a mainstream science at all.

The World Meteorological Organisation warned in 2007 that ionisation programmes "have no physical basis."

Mr Bruintjes said ionisation was "physically impossible".

"There's no way to generate a cloud," he said. "You can't make a cloud out of dry air.

"These things come from the rotation of the earth, the energy of the sun and the water from the oceans. Those are things we cannot replicate or change."

mcroucher@thenational.ae