Dry UAE turns to science to squeeze more precipitation out of clouds

ABU DHABI (Reuters) – United Arab Emirates meteorologist Abra Al Hammadi said as a twin-turboprop plane with dozens of saltwater tanks attached to its wings took off under the scorching desert sun. I’m scanning a weather map on my computer screen to see if clouds are forming.

At 9,000 feet above sea level, the plane releases a salt flare into the most likely white clouds in hopes of triggering rainfall.

“Cloud seeding requires the presence of rain clouds, which is not always the case, so this is a problem,” said Hamadi, head of rain augmentation operations at the UAE’s National Weather Center. said.

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Located in one of the hottest and driest regions on earth, the UAE has led efforts to seed clouds and increase precipitation, but it averages less than 100 mm (3.9 inches) per year.

The impact of climate change, combined with population growth and economic diversification such as tourism, has increased the demand for water in the UAE, which has long relied on expensive seawater desalination plants.

Officials say they believe cloud seeding can help. Abu Dhabi scientists combine firing hygroscopic or water-attracting salt flares with a new technique, releasing salt nanoparticles into clouds, to stimulate and accelerate the condensation process, hopefully as rain. Produces droplets large enough to rain.

“Cloud seeding increases annual rainfall by about 10% to 30%. Our calculations show that cloud seeding is much cheaper than the desalination process,” said Hammadi.

Other countries in the region, such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, have announced similar plans as they face historic droughts.

Edward Graham, a meteorologist at the University of the Highlands and Islands in the UK, says the salt used for cloud seeding in the UAE does not harm the environment.

“When it comes to carbon footprint, a plane flying through the clouds is just a small plane. It’s just a drop,” he added. .

A pilot based at Al Ain Airport in the United Arab Emirates must be ready to take off quickly, flying over a red-yellow desert before pointing his aircraft at the clouds on a meteorologist’s screen .

“Cloud seeding is considered the second most difficult challenge for pilots,” says Ahmed al-Jaberi, one of the flyers. “When there are clouds, we try to understand how we need to get in and out of them, and we try to avoid thunderstorms and hail.”

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By Aziz El Yaakoubi.Edited by Alex Richardson

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