Salt flares used in cloud seeding. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: There are some things in life that people can’t predict, and that includes rain.

UAE residents generally enjoy sun all year round, save a few bouts of a heatwave in the summer. And due to the atypical nature of rain, the sight of even a few drops can grab the attention of all and make the local headlines.

But with the assistance of technology, the UAE has been able to make the occurrence of rain more probable, and has also been able to enhance the amount of accumulated rain in the emirates.

Khaled Al Obeidli, head of the cloud seeding section at the Abu Dhabi-based National Centre of Meteorology (NCM), explained that most of the rain in the UAE occurs during the winter and spring months, “which cover the period from December to April over scattered areas at different amounts”.

“However, rain also occurred during the summer time over eastern parts of the UAE and surrounding areas. Other months of 2017 also experienced some amounts of rain over different parts of the UAE.”

Over the last few years, the NCM was able to give mother nature a helping hand with some science, and accelerate the annual rainfall with its cloud seeding project.

What is cloud seeding?

The UAE was one of the first countries in the Arabian Gulf to adopt cloud seeding technology.

The programme initially began at the end of 1990, but by the end of 2000, the fully-fledged project was carried out in cooperation with a number of organisations and institutes, including the US space agency Nasa.

It is now standard practice for the NCM’s cloud seeding section to use a sophisticated weather surveillance radar (WSR), which is responsible in monitoring the atmospheric pressure around the clock.

Image Credit: Gulf News

Cloud seeding missions can only be carried out with cumulus cloud formations, so once they are identified, the NCM will quickly launch aircrafts carrying salt crystals – mixed with magnesium, sodium chloride and potassium chloride – that are shot into the skies.

The salt crystal flares then encourages the formation and release of cloud moisture, which then turns into precipitation.

“We have six pilots and four aeroplanes to carry out cloud seeding missions, and collectively, they carried out 242 flights in 2017. According to the NCM weather stations’ network, the highest amount of rainfall recorded in 24 hours was 128.8 mm on December 17, 2017 at Fujairah Port, while the highest mean of rainfall recorded across the UAE was 34mm in March, 2017,” said Al Obeidli.

The aim of the cloud seeding project is to “increase the rain droplet to fall on the ground”, said Al Obeidli, as he elaborated on how the project functions.

“It works by sending the aircraft to the cloud and targets the updraft to seed it, which helps the small rain droplets to be bigger and heavier, so it will fall to the ground,” said Al Obeidli, as he stressed that no harmful chemicals were used in the process.

It works by sending the aircraft to the cloud and targets the updraft to seed it, which helps the small rain droplets to be bigger and heavier.

- Khaled Al Obeidli, NCM

The cloud seeding mission is not constrained by seasons and is carried out throughout the year when seedable clouds are detected. So while the project may boost the amount of rainfall, it cannot take all the credit for rainfall as the global success rate of cloud seeding lies between 15 - 30 per cent.

According to the World Meteorological Organisation, as many as 56 countries are using cloud seeding technology to mainly combat droughts in places like China, Indonesia and the US.

Recent statistics further indicate that two-thirds of the world's population may face water shortages by 2025, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

While the rain-making project continues to be studied by countries around the world, the UAE remains at the forefront in paving the way for international cloud seeding research.

Watch: The process of cloud-seeding

In 2015, the UAE launched its US$5 million (Dh18.4 million) annual award to help scientists and researchers in solving global water challenges.

This year’s winners of the UAE Research Program for Rain Enhancement Science (REP) were Professor Eric Frew from the US, Dr Lulin Xue from China and Dr Ali Abshaev from Russia.

As part of the UAE’s commitment to support initiatives in the field of rain enhancement, the REP unveiled an ambitious new plan at the beginning of October to integrate the programme’s nine awardee projects. At present, all winners of the annual grant are running in three different programme cycles.

Dr Abdullah Al Mandous, director of the NCM, said: "In launching this initiative, we seek to translate the long-term objectives of the UAE REP into successful outcomes that benefit arid and semi-arid regions around the world through new technologies.”

The initiative, titled “Integrating Schemes from UAE REP projects into a unified multi-component atmospheric model", is aimed at improving cloud seeding methods through leveraging the research findings of awardee projects.

The model will be developed at Khalifa University in Abu Dhabi and will is expected to be completed by the end of 2020.

“These will improve the quality of cloud seeding operations while also providing sustainable solutions to water-scarcity challenges. We are proud of what we have achieved so far in this vital area, and we will continue our pursuit to achieve more," said Al Mandous.

We are proud of what we have achieved so far in this vital area, and we will continue our pursuit to achieve more

- Dr Abdullah Al Mandous, NCM director

The collaborative scientific venture will also increase the accuracy of weather forecasts related to cloud seeding operations in the UAE.

International achievements in rain-making

The cloud seeding mission is not constrained by seasons and is carried out throughout the year when seedable clouds are detected. Image Credit: Supplied

A number of other countries have also been actively pursuing the enhancement of rain, most notably in these countries:

  • China. It currently has a wide cloud seeding system.
  • The United States. Cloud seeding missions were used to increase precipitation in areas that experienced drought and to reduce the size of hailstones that formed in thunderstorms.
  • India. Successful rain enhancement operations were carried out to boost levels of rainfall in Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra States.
  • Thailand. The rain-enhancement process was used to boost rainfall in water basins and agricultural areas.

Source: UAE National Centre of Meteorology