Desert dwellers wishing to transform their arid surroundings into a profitable, crop-sustaining oasis have reportedly gotten one step closer to making that dream a reality, as Abu Dhabi scientists now claim to have created more than 50 artificial rainstorms from clear skies during peak summer months in 2010.
According to Arabian Business, the storms were part of a top secret, Swiss-backed project, commissioned by Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, president of the UAE and leader of Abu Dhabi.
Called “Weathertec,” the climate project – said to be worth a staggering $11 million – utilized ionizers resembling giant lampshades to generate fields of negatively charged particles, which create cloud formation, throughout the country’s Al Ain region, according to the Telegraph (UK).
It’s believed to be the first time the system has produced rain from clear skies, according to the Sunday Times. In the past, China and other countries have used chemicals for cloud-seeding to both induce and prevent rain falling.
Over 122 days through the summer months, the emitters were switched on 74 times when atmospheric humidity reached the required level of 30 percent or more.
During that time, Al AIn experienced rainfall on 52 occasions on days when the country’s own weather service had predicted no clouds and no rain. The fake storms went so far as to produce hail, wind gales and even lightning, baffling residents.
“We are currently operating our innovative rainfall enhancement technology, Weathertec, in the region of Al Ain in Abu Dhabid,” Helmut Fluhrer, the founder of Metro Systems International, the Swiss company in charge of the project, is quoted as saying. “We started in June 2010 and have achieved a number of rainfalls.”
Monitored by the Max Planck Institute for Technology, a leading tank for the study of atmosphere physics, the fake storms are said to have baffled Abu Dhabi residents by also producing hail, wind gales and even lightning.
“There are many applications,” Professor Hartmut Grassl, a former institute director, is quoted by the Daily Mail as saying. “One is getting water into a dry area. Maybe this is a most important point for mankind.”
But the idea that countries in the Middle East could actually create rain in this water-poor region could go a long way to solving the area’s problems with drought and is considered to be cheaper than desalination.
The savings using the Weathertec technology are huge with the system costing $9.3 million a year while desalination is $70 million.
Building an ionising system is about $11 million while a desalination plant would be $1.32 billion and costs a lot more to run.
But how controllable the weather can be is still in doubt, and the consequences of meddling with nature at this level are yet to be seen.
Some scientists are treating the results in Al Ain with caution because Abu Dhabi is a coastal state and can experience natural summer rainfall triggered by air picking up moisture from the warm ocean before dropping it on land.
But the number of times it rained in the region so soon after the ionisers were switched on has encouraged researchers. Professor Peter Wilderer witnessed the experiments first hand and is backing the breakthrough.
The director of advanced studies on sustainability at the Technical University of Munich, said: “We came a big step closer to the point where we can increase the availability of fresh water to all in times of dramatic global changes.” [via Telegraph (UK), Daily Mail (UK) and Arabian Business]