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NCM Investigates use of UAVs for Automated Cloud Seeding Decision Making

Abu Dhabi-UAE: 28October, 2021 – The National Center of Meteorology (NCM), through the UAE Research Program for Rain Enhancement Science (UAEREP), has carried out a research campaign in Colorado, United States of America to investigate the possibility of using autonomous unmanned aircraft systems to collect cloud microphysical measurements and provide automated cloud seeding decisions. 

The three-week field campaign aimed to demonstrate the autonomous observation and seeding capabilities of UAVs through a series of Intensive Observation Periods (IOPs) of increasing complexity.

A team of researchers led by Prof. Eric Frew, Professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder and the program’s 3rd cycle awardee, successfully deployed and validated a miniaturized instrument suite for in-situ cloud microphysical measurements and demonstrated their use to conduct seeding.

The team conducted autonomous targeted observation and delivery algorithms that provide real-time guidance to UAVs based on model simulations, radar data, and in situ measurements. The use of autonomous UAVs in targeting seeding conditions in convective clouds was evaluated throughout the field campaign.

The campaign was carried out using three UAVs: two fully instrumented UAVs with miniaturized instruments for in-situ cloud measurements and one UAV to carry and disperse seeding material.  Following their successful demonstration, the UAVs will be handed over to NCM for further trials in the UAE to assess the feasibility of integrating the technology for operational cloud seeding activities.

The campaign represents one of the first technology demonstrations of UAVs dedicated for seeding operations while being guided by real-time measurements and autonomous decision-based algorithms. The technology has proven its potential to increase the overall efficiency of seeding operations.

His Excellency Dr. Abdulla Al Mandous, Director General of NCM and President of the Regional Association II (Asia) of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), said: “Eric Frew’s research campaign marks an important technology demonstration that could fundamentally change the way how we conduct rain enhancement operations in the future using autonomous unmanned aircraft systems. The deployment of such advanced technologies will allow our scientists to improve their understanding of cloud formation processes in the UAE and other arid and semi-arid regions and carry out more reliable and efficient rain enhancement operations. This will go a long way in fulfilling NCM’s objective of building new local and regional capacities in meteorology and water resource management.”

For her part, Alya Al Mazroui, Director of the UAE Research Program for Rain Enhancement Science (UAEREP), said: “This testing campaign was conducted as part of the program’s continued efforts to leverage the research findings of awardee projects to improve our cloud seeding methods. Autonomous technologies could significantly increase our capability to conduct successful rain enhancement operations based on more accurate observation of cloud microphysical measurements and target suitable clouds for seeding. Through harnessing new technology advances, the program plays a pivotal role in improving the effectiveness of cloud seeding and achieving global water security.”