In this article we take a look at Cloud Seeding, an innovative technique which can help us fight climate change by creating artificial rain
Illustration of Cloud Seeding
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To understand the need and purpose of artificial rain, or Cloud Seeding, it is important to understand the water cycle and how global warming is disrupting its normal flow.
The water cycle describes the circulation of water on our planet. Although the total amount of water on Earth remains fairly constant throughout time, the distribution of water among the many steps in the cycle varies significantly, impacted mainly by climatic conditions such as temperature, wind and humidity.
On a regular water cycle, precipitation provides enough water for plants and crops to prosper while the rest is absorbed into the ground. This absorbed water keeps the soil moist and fills lakes, rivers and aquifers. Then, with appropriate climatic conditions, evaporation and plant transpiration release water back into the atmosphere which, through condensation, becomes precipitation again, closing the loop. This is the water cycle.
However, climatic changes and global warming are affecting the cycle. Warmer temperatures cause plants to transpire less and evaporation happens too fast, destabilizing the cycle. This destabilization leads to more precipitation in some areas and causes other areas to become prone to droughts (depending, for instance, on the proximity to rain belts or the presence or absence of nearby large masses of water). In general, climatic changes will (and already do) lead to more extreme weather events throughout the world. Areas far from coastlines will tend to become drier and experience more droughts as global warming takes its toll on our planet.
As a way to tackle climate change, and more specifically the issue of increased drought, scientists have begun to investigate the possibility of artificially creating rain, a process known as Cloud Seeding.
Cloud Seeding is a technique which aims to produce more rain out of a cloud than would naturally occur. To accomplish this, aircrafts are frequently used (although the technique can also be accomplished through land emissions, as shown in the image above), which throw flares containing chemicals like silver iodide into thunderstorm clouds. These clouds contain small liquid droplets at very low temperatures – these droplets are too small and light to freeze, merge or fall. Silver iodide mimics ice crystals due to its crystalline structure, providing the mean with which these droplets can aggregate, forming water droplets with enough weight and size to fall, causing precipitation that would otherwise not occur. However, it is important to note that Cloud Seeding is a rain enhancement technique, as in it only works if there are already forecasts of rain – only then the small water droplets are formed. Without these water droplets, the chemicals do not have water droplets to aggregate and the technique wouldn’t work.
The effectiveness of this technique is still under debate and whether it significantly increases precipitation divides opinions among experts. Nonetheless, experiments by the American Meteorological Society or the Desert Research Institute have shown consistent and positive results produced by this technique. The general opinion tends to agree that Cloud Seeding actually works.
Environmentally, researchers have seen minimal drawbacks and a negligible environmental impact. For instance, in a study conducted in Wyoming in 2014, the toxicity and accumulation of silver compounds measured in the water and soil was of extremely low order.
Thus, Humans have finally discovered how to actually make it rain. This is especially important in an era where droughts are becoming ever-so-frequent and as Cloud Seeding becomes more popular worldwide, we will find out its full potential and limitations. Nonetheless, in case its drawbacks do not become unsustainable, this technique has enormous potential to aid a wounded climate.
Finally, it is crucial to remark that techniques like Cloud Seeding can be extremely helpful for mankind, but to profoundly restore and heal our climate, deeper, long-term and sustainable changes need to take place.
What do you think about Cloud Seeding? Do you know other environment-enhancing techniques? Let us know down below!
by YKW // 06 December 2023
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