This UAE Research Program for Rain Enhancement Science is a new initiative designed to improve water security in arid and semi-arid areas around the world.
The UAE has already built considerable momentum in achieving energy-efficient water security. However, with the country still dependent on groundwater for two-thirds of its domestic requirements, challenges remain. The issue of water security in the United Arab Emirates is one of the country’s main future challenges.
Rain enhancement, a part of those activities more popularly known as ‘cloud seeding’, could offer a viable, cost-effective supplement to existing water supplies in arid and semi-arid regions. The technique offers sufficient potential for regional governments to develop a new tool in their quest to ensure water security. To encourage research in this promising field, the UAE has created the UAE Research Program for Rain Enhancement Science to oversee a US $5 million program to encourage scientists and researchers innovative ideas for rain enhancement science and technology. The program’s objectives are the development of techniques to improve the efficiency and predictive capabilities of targeted cloud seeding operations. Water security is an important long-term issue; our Program will be ongoing to enhance scientific understanding of rain enhancement so that we can make a lasting contribution to the global fight against water scarcity.
Although the science of rain enhancement has been actively pursued since the late 1940s, it still offers considerable potential in terms of research, development and innovation.
UAE achievements in rain enhancement:
The UAE cloud-seeding program started in the 1990s. By early 2001 the program was cooperating with well-known organizations such as the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Colorado, USA, as well as the Witwatersrand University in South Africa and the US Space Agency, NASA. The UAE now has more than 60 networked weather stations in the UAE, a weather radar network, and six aircraft for cloud seeding operations. Rain enhancement operations have focused on the mountainous areas in the north-east of the country, where cumulus clouds gather in the summer. Importantly, no harmful chemicals are used in UAE cloud seeding operations; our specialized aircraft only use natural salts, and no harmful chemicals.
International achievements in rain enhancement:
Rain enhancement has also been actively pursued by a number of other countries. Examples of these are:
- China, which currently has a wide cloud seeding system.
- The United States, where cloud seeding is being used to increase precipitation in areas experiencing drought and to reduce the size of hailstones that form in thunderstorms.
- India, where rain enhancement operations have been successfully employed in recent years to boost rainfall levels in Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra States.
- Thailand, where the enlightened and far-sighted role played by His Highness King Bhumibol of Thailand has been instrumental in the development of Thailand’s excellent record of successful operations to boost rainfall in water basins and agricultural areas.
The current rain enhancement research agenda:
Specialists in rain enhancement point to several obstacles to the effective augmentation and catchment of rain, all of which we are confident can be overcome. Currently, the three key technical challenges are the collation and analysis of data on cloud formations; the selection and deployment of seeding materials; and the process of identifying and tracking suitable clouds for seeding.
- Firstly, the data collection process for clouds needs to be improved both in terms of response times and geographical coverage. All too often, meteorologists can anticipate the build-up of rain bearing clouds, but are prevented from gathering sufficient data because of an insufficient spatial density of monitoring stations or rain gauges.
- Secondly, there is the issue of seeding materials. Existing seeding operations suggest that hydroscopic materials are the best option for warm, convective clouds, while silver iodine is more appropriate for use on cloud formations in colder climates. New research is needed to investigate the efficacy of seeding materials and how these can be more effectively deployed.
- Thirdly, identifying and tracking the right kind of clouds for seeding operations requires improved monitoring infrastructures that can provide real time information.
Finding a solution to these challenges could open the way for rain enhancement to play a key role in efforts to meet water sustainability targets. Although the immediate aim of the UAE Research Program for Rain Enhancement Science is to increase the UAE’s rainfall and boost freshwater supply, the intention is to generate results that could have wider applications for countries that might benefit from advances in rain augmentation technology.
As an arid country with low annual rainfall levels, a high evaporation rate of surface water, and a low groundwater recharge rate that is far less than the total annual water used in the country, the UAE is eager to share its experience in rain enhancement and to foster a spirit of international knowledge transfer and cooperative development in the science of precipitation.
Through such active support for research and development innovation, the UAE is playing its part in reinvigorating work in this field. The country’s efforts to explore all options for strengthening water sustainability reflects awareness that in the decades to come, increasing water scarcity could trigger civil and inter-state conflicts in arid and semi-arid regions. Reflecting the importance of securing our future water supplies, the UAE government is driving the innovation needed to make rain enhancement a key tool in our efforts to ensure adequate supplies of freshwater for people in arid and semi-arid regions around the world.