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Enhancing Rainfall in the UAE Through Landcover Modification and Artificial Heat Islands

Water scarcity in the UAE and the Middle East Region poses a significant challenge, exacerbated by high temperatures and changing climate patterns. In this hyper-arid region, water scarcity is reaching a crisis point due to growing consumption and over-extraction occurring in tandem with these environmental factors.


In terms of unconventional water resources, the UAE has relied on desalination and cloud seeding operations for many years, but is now exploring the potential for other intervention areas to increase natural water resources. One pioneering research project, supported under the UAE Research Program for Rain Enhancement Science (UAEREP), is an investigation of geo-engineering through landcover modification to stimulate additional natural rainfall. The proposed methodology includes using large black mesh, black-painted, or black solar cell panels, referred to as artificial black surfaces (ABS), to increase surface heat and facilitate convection, a key part of the Earth’s water cycle and an essential process for rainfall formation.


The research team, led by Prof. Volker Wulfmeyer, Institute of Physics and Meteorology of the University of Hohenheim in Germany and a first cycle UAEREP awardee, recently published a new study in Earth System Dynamics under the project, "Optimizing Cloud Seeding by Advanced Remote Sensing and Land Cover Modification". The study investigated the potential of landcover modification to increase rainfall in the UAE along its coastlines. Through sophisticated computer simulations, researchers examined how different sizes, types, and locations of landcover modification can impact regional rainfall and the convection process.


The team conducted a series of simulations during the summer months, which tested five separate ABS scenarios with various sizes to assess their impact over 24-hour periods. The simulations were carried out in different geographic locations, investigating their initial effects on sea breeze motions. The team simulated the impact of 10x10, 20x20, 30x30, 40x40, and 50x50 km2 ABS-covered areas.


The study found that ABSs, particularly those with low reflective properties, have the potential to enhance rainfall during the UAE's summertime months. By absorbing sunlight and heating the surface, ABSs warm the air above, creating favorable conditions for convection. Moreover, the presence of ABSs amplifies factors like humidity and convergence lines, further contributing to rainfall enhancement. They hypothesized that if the UAE implemented one pair of ABS surfaces on 20 to 50 km scales, up to ten additional rainfall events per year could supply water for between 3,000 and 15,000 people.


The ABS scale emerged as a key insight during the study. Larger ABSs demonstrated more significant impacts on rainfall and convective processes compared to smaller ones. For example, ABSs with areas of 20 km2 or more exhibited substantial increases in rainfall, suggesting that implementing large-scale ABS systems could significantly augment freshwater resources in the UAE.


The study emphasizes the need for further research to refine ABS technology, understand its full potential and eventual deployment in the field. Future studies could explore the sensitivity of simulation results to various factors, such as model resolution and atmospheric conditions. Additionally, long-term climate simulations could provide valuable insights into the sustainability and effectiveness of ABS systems in enhancing rainfall.


ABS systems offer a promising strategy for addressing water scarcity in the UAE. By harnessing sunlight to stimulate rainfall, ABSs could complement existing water management efforts in the region. As research advances, there's potential to optimize ABS technology and integrate it with other sustainable practices, such as solar energy generation and irrigation systems – the emerging field of agrovoltaics.


Ultimately, ABS systems represent a versatile and innovative approach to enhancing rainfall and securing water resources in arid regions like the UAE. By leveraging innovative technologies like ABSs, the UAE can work towards a more sustainable future, ensuring the availability of freshwater resources for generations to come.


Discover more about this study here.