Abu Dhabi: Between 10 and 15 per cent of the UAE’s rainfall in 2018 was the result of cloud seeding operations carried out by the National Centre of Meteorology (NCM), according to a cloud-seeding expert at the centre.
“In 2018, the number of our cloud seeding operations reached 187, and this was mainly dependent on the number of clouds that were amenable for cloud seeding, we are always ready to carry out more missions but we need the right type of clouds in order for us to successfully launch our operations,” said Sufian Farrah, cloud-seeding expert at NCM.
“We are not making rain, we are only enhancing the conditions, and in 2018 about 10-15 perc ent of rainfall was a result of our cloud seeding operations,” he said, adding that the centre is looking to improve its cloud seeding technologies with the goal of further improving those numbers.
According to Farrah, cloud seeding operations also led to an increased duration of rainfall by as much as 30 minutes. Average rainfall per annum in UAE is 120mm in coastal areas, but in some mountainous areas it can reach 350mm.
“The operations are related to increasing the amount and the duration of the rainfall, and in these cloud seeding operations the duration was sometimes extended by 30 minutes or more.”
Explaining how the NCM carries out its operations, Farah said the organisation has six full time pilots and four Beechcraft King aircraft at their service and ready to fly towards any favourable clouds that are suitable for cloud seeding.
“In the early morning we look at the weather patterns and if we see that the right type of clouds are going to accumulate over some area we send our pilots and aircraft to the target place. Once the aircraft reaches the location the pilot will start to search for a good location with an updraft (current of rising air) because we need the updraft to release the cloud seeding materials.
“The firing time usually takes around three minutes and depends on how large the cloud is, and the reaction to these materials is about 10-15 minutes,” he added.
“Our aircraft operate out of Al Ain International Airport, we chose this location because a lot of frequent cloud formations usually happen in the surrounding areas,” he said.
Farrah also highlighted that the entire ground staff for the NCM’s cloud seeding operations comprise Emiratis.
“We have six pilots who are mainly from South Africa, but for the team on the ground they are all Emirati experts. At the beginning of our operations, the majority of our project was carried out by non-Emiratis, but gradually since then we have had Emirati professionals taking over.”
Enhancing water security
In parallel to cloud-seeding operations, NCM also manages the UAE Research Programme for Rain Enhancement Science aimed at supporting scientific research in the area of cloud seeding.
Since its inaugural event in 2016, the programme has awarded nine winners for their innovative projects towards cloud seeding, with the programme putting the UAE at the forefront of looking towards rain enhancement as a viable means for ensuring water security.
“In terms of proposals we have had 365 submissions over the last three years, in the last cycle we had 201 proposals, and so there’s been a huge increased interest from the scientific community in the rain enhancement programme,” said Alya Al Mazroui, director of the UAE Research Programme for Rain Enhancement Science.
“At the moment we have nine selected winners from our last three cycles. Our winners from the first cycle in 2016 are going to complete their projects in 2019, after which their research will be put into practice for real tangible benefits for communities living in arid and semi-arid regions.
“The same will apply to our other six winners, our goal is to have all of their innovative projects implemented in the real world, and not just confined to research papers or theories. These projects and the innovations they are bringing are going to make cloud seeding more efficient in the future, which benefits us all and not just the UAE,” she added, commenting on how the programme’s support for international research is helping to boost cloud seeding efforts.
Al Mazroui said the rain enhancement programme’s success was a testament to how far the UAE’s cloud seeding projects have come, starting all the way back in the 1990s.
“Since the 1990s our leadership was focusing on this area, and since then this very strong support has continued with the improving of operations, purchasing the necessary equipment and technologies, capacity building, and overall putting a solid infrastructure capable for world class research on cloud seeding.
“Now we can see the UAE having a leading strategic role as an Arab country in water security issues, which all come under its advanced science agenda. The rain enhancement programme reflects that role and vision,” she added.
“Cloud seeding is a very cost effective, reliable and environmentally sound way of meeting our water security needs. It’s not something that harms our environment; the materials that are used have no negative affects, and so cloud seeding offers us so much potential for freshwater supplies,” she said.
What is cloud seeding?
Cloud seeding is a method used to stimulate precipitation by dispersing substances such as dry ice or silver iodide into clouds. The process is an artificial way of helping boost rainfall. This is usually done by sending a small aircraft near the cloud’s location and releasing the materials. Once inside the cloud, the substances assist in making ice crystals, which is what rain comes from.
HOW NCM SEEDS CLOUDS
• Weather patterns are analysed early in the morning. If the right clouds are accumulating in a certain area, the aircra is deployed there.
• Once the aircra reaches the location, the pilot searches for clouds with an updraft to release cloud-seeding materials. Firing time usuallytakes around three minutes and depends on how large the cloud is.
• Reaction to the cloud-seeding materials is about 10-15 minutes.
• The aircra operate out of Al Ain International Airport as frequent cloud formations happen in the surrounding areas.