x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 17 August 2017

Cloud seeding a boost to rainfall over UAE

National Centre of Meteorology and Seismology delighted with their results after 58 operations in past two months.

Cloud seeding over the UAE in recent weeks has produced a bumper rain harvest. Courtesy National Centre for Meteorology and Seismology
Cloud seeding over the UAE in recent weeks has produced a bumper rain harvest. Courtesy National Centre for Meteorology and Seismology

FUJAIRAH // The recent spate of downpours might have dampened tourists’ spirits, but scientists at the National Centre of Meteorology and Seismology could not have been happier.

Officials at the NCMS were delighted to see the skies open on Sunday, with heavy and long showers reported across the country.

“We have carried out 12 cloud-seeding operations during the last three days and 58 since the beginning of the year,” said Dr Ahmed Habeeb, meteorologist and expert on cloud seeding at the centre.

“Cloud seeding is a way to enhance the amount of precipitation that falls from the clouds and helps generate 10 to 30 per cent more rain. We started testing this method back in 2002 until 2006, and that’s when we officially began to carry out cloud-seeding operations.”

Dr Habeeb said the heaviest rain was on Sunday, with 24 millimetres falling over Al Faqa on the border of Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

Cloud seeding is not an exact science and uncertainty about whether rain can be produced on demand remains. Despite more than 60 years of research, there is a lot to be understood about rain and clouds because of their differing properties.

“Not all types of clouds can be seeded, only the ones that are ready to generate rain. We use hygroscopic salt to level up the amount of moisture to generate more rain,” said Dr Habeeb, adding that the best season for seeding is between June and August.

“Eastern areas such as Ras Al Khaimah, Fujairah and parts of Al Ain have the best environment and factors to generate clouds for seeding, especially during summer, while in the western areas, and particularly Liwa, we can find such clouds in the period between July and August,” he said

Forecasters expect the wet weather to continue towards the weekend.

But the overcast skies and heavy rain provided some much-needed relief for farmers and their crops.

“The land and the soil needed such heavy rain, the trees look lean and fresh,” said Ahmad Saber, a 70-year-old Emirati farmer who owns a farm in Qidfa.

“I have palm trees that adapt very well with the soil’s high levels of salt but other trees can’t grow and live in such soil, so water is very important to reduce the amount of salt in the ground.”

Mr Saber said his farm relied on rainfall and water from a well.

“I face difficulties to move water from the well to the farm as its located in a place far away from the farm. We didn’t face such problems in the past as the amounts of rain was higher and there used to be a stream near by, but everything has changed during the past 10 years,” he said.

Another farmer from Al Bidya said rain was essential as relying on water from desalination was expensive.

“I used to grow vegetables but not any more as the water resources and rain are decreasing and I can’t afford water desalination,” said Abu Baker Sultan, 45. “I only kept the palm trees as they don’t need much water to grow.”

An agricultural engineer said heavy rain could solve farmers’ problems temporarily, but long-term solutions were needed.

“Due to the lack of heavy rain farmers should use other methods to provide their farms with water, such as modern irrigation or hydroponics,” said Abdulhaq Yousef.

“Farmers should be educated by the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment about the best practices, and how to conserve water and make the best of the current resources.”

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Seeding and cloudfunding

Cloud seeding aims to increase the amount of rain that falls by releasing pure salt crystal, silver iodide, potassium iodide or dry ice into the air, which helps to change the processes within the cloud.

Since its first attempt to make rain in 1990, the National Centre of Meteorology and Seismology has used expertise from Nasa and other organisations in its experiments.

Using planes fitted with seeding flares, NCMS pilots fire salt crystals into clouds to improve condensation and form droplets that could fall as rain.

This year, a UAE research team filed a provisional application for a patent with the US Patent and Trademark Office for a cloud-seeding technique that involves coating a pure salt crystal with titanium dioxide to improve the condensation process.

American Charles Hatfield is credited as being the first person to make it rain on demand using science in 1915, using US$10,000 donated by the city of San Diego, California, to end a severe drought.

Using a “secret formula” he reportedly produced so much rain that valleys in southern California flooded. Hatfield never shared his “secret formula”. *The National

rhaza@thenational.ae