Nicoll’s team started by modelling the behavior of clouds. They found that when cloud droplets have a positive or negative electrical charge, the smaller droplets are more likely to merge and grow to become big raindrops.
The size of the raindrops is important, says Nicoll, because in places like the UAE which has high clouds and high temperatures, droplets often evaporate as they fall.
“What we are trying to do is to make the droplets inside the clouds big enough so that when they fall out of the cloud, they survive down to the surface,” says Nicoll.
The proposal was chosen to receive a $ 1.5 million grant distributed over three years by the UAE Research Program for Rain Enhancement Science, an initiative run by the National Center of Meteorology.
To test out the model, Nicoll and her team built four aircraft with a wingspan of two meters. These are launched from a catapult, have a full autopilot system, and can fly for around 40 minutos.
Each aircraft has sensors for measuring temperature, cargo, and humidity, as well as charge emitters — the part that does the zapping — that were developed with the University of Bath in the UK.
Hasta aquí, testing has been conducted in the UK and Finland
, and ground-based measurements of cloud properties taken in the UAE
. La investigación has been published in the Journal of Atmospheric and Oceanic Technology
Because the pandemic meant Nicoll’s team couldn’t travel to the UAE, they have trained operators from a flight school in Dubai to use their aircraft. They’re now waiting for the right weather conditions to complete the tests.
As climate change alters weather patterns
, causing severe droughts in some places and floods in others
, there is a growing interest in how to control the weather
. According to the World Wildlife Fund
, two thirds of the world’s population may face water shortages by
While the University of Reading project is coming to an end this year, Nicoll wants future projects to combine charging clouds with cloud seeding — an existing weather modification technique where drones inject particles of silver iodide or salt into clouds to encourage them to rain or snow.
Nicoll says using charged salt particles could make cloud seeding more efficient.
Alya Al Mazroui, director of the UAE Research Program for Rain Enhancement Science, says the organization is already experimenting with cloud seeding. “An increasing number of countries have invested in weather modification research and applications, particularly those in arid regions such as the UAE,” ella dice.
The UAE conducted
242 cloud seeding missions in
2017, according to the National Center of Meteorology
. En 2018, Al Mazroui told CNN that rain enhancement could offer a more cost-effective and environmentally friendly solution to water security than alternatives like desalination
, where salt is removed from seawater
. The UAE has one of the largest desalination operations in the world
, con huge quantities of brine produced as a byproduct
. But discharging brine into the sea can harm marine life
Other countries that have heavily invested in cloud seeding include los Estados Unidos
. The latter announced last December that it would expand its weather modification program to cover an area of over
5.5 million square kilometers
While cloud seeding as a concept has been around for decades
, there has been little research showing its effectiveness
. Uno estudio funded by the US National Science Foundation in early
2020 found that seeding with silver iodide could increase snowfall
But there are questions over whether seeding clouds in one location might take rain away from another location, and the long-term environmental impacts of silver iodide. The process is also very expensive.
“There’s still a long way to go to definitively see how effective cloud seeding weather modification is at enhancing rainfall,” says Nicoll.
But we may soon be one step closer to finding out how effective cloud zapping can be.