When scientists perform the rain dance

Weather forecast tell us every day that it might rain tomorrow, but what if we need to make it rain tomorrow? Cloud seeding is a primary weather modification technology. The process of seeding a storm involves dispersing an artificial nucleating agent. There is a controversy surrounding the use of this technology and the effect of chemicals involved. What options do we have over cloud seeding taking into account the potential to overcome droughts and sustain water sources, while ensuring public safety and environment?

Is it really working? 

In Wyoming state, a study showed that during ideal condition cloud seeding can increase precipitation by 5-10%, though does it add any value to the economy? In North Dakota, cloud seeding operations have been used to decrease hail which assisted in reducing crops’ damage and increased profit by $134.5 million annually. These studies and several more demonstrate the possible contributions that cloud seeding can provide. Can this technology help us more? Cloud seeding offers a more sustainable water supply to replenish the depleted groundwater caused by excessive pumping.

Fear of the unknown

Hearing that silver iodide is used in cloud seeding can be freighting since silver ions are among the most toxic substance. however, the studies show that seeded storms indicated a silver concentration well below the allowable environmental concentration of 50 micrograms per letter set by the U.S. public health serves.Although it cannot be guaranteed that no harmful effects of cloud seeding will occur in future, the exploding increase in water demands cannot be ignored. cloud seeding technologies have the potential to take a part of the solution, the advancement and the expansion of cloud seeding technology cannot stop based on arguments built on no solid evidence but on the human fear of the unknown.

A day before Tasmania flooding

Hydro Tasmania, a company that has been involved in cloud seeding over Tasmania since 1964, denied its relation to the devastating floods after seeding clouds a day before. The company operations have been on hold since June 2016. This case raises serious doubts on the claimed positive results of cloud seeding. To what extent do we actually have control over the outcome in the targeted areas and surroundings? The company states using small amounts of cloud seeding chemicals would not cause harm, but can we take it for granted?

Unexpected outcomes

A cloud seeding program was conducted in an effort to ease drought in Beijing. The result was not as expected, the precipitation fell as snow and temperatures dropped sharply. The snowstorm disrupted flights, road travel, and hindered shipping off the Chinese coast. The French hail prevention project and other studies suggest that the extra area effect may extend to a few hundred kilometers from the seeded area. The fact that the effect of cloud seeding is observed beyond the intended area raises a concern about the accuracy of such programs. The lack of accuracy might lead to an increase in precipitation in nearby regions that could trigger extreme weather conditions. Such conditions might be drastic on the infrastructure and the community living in these regions. Who is responsible in this case?

‘A teaspoon’ of silver iodide

A silver iodide manufacturer warns against the potential health risks of this material. These hazards include eye irritation, burning on cuts and headache to name a few. But to what degree are we exposed to this material? Hydro Tasmania claims that the amount used per square kilometre is less than ‘a teaspoon’. This does not show the full picture since areas that are repeatedly seeded are exposed to a cumulative effect. A study found that this material concentration in rain from seeded clouds is 10-225 times greater than normal. We might consume food grown in agricultural regions that are often targeted by this technology. What if this material cumulate in our food? If so, Is the consumer at risk?

What options are available?

In order to reach a decision, stakeholders must be taken into account. Governments are not only pushing the technology to boost the economy, but also must formulate regulations regarding the use of the technology. Developers such as research centres are seeking financial and technological advantages. Users of the technology can be diverse including companies and individuals who are usually looking for an investment return. The public is directly affected and should be considered as a crucial stakeholder.

There are two possible options:

  • Proceed cloud seeding and formulate regulation guiding the development and usage of cloud seeding.
  • Cease cloud seeding operation but proceed research to reduce the uncertainty and the risks of the technology.

To reach a morally acceptable decision, the facts have to be evaluated using the relevant frameworks. Jeremy Bentham utility principle can be applied and more specific his idea of a “moral balance sheet”. The benefits of cloud seeding are tangible and can be of great potential as it was mentioned before, whereas the negative effects have no clear evidence and no direct human harm is expected. Hence, proceeding cloud seeding can result in a greater pleasure to more people.

If we were to follow a common sense method, humans have been modifying weather systems since they started burning fossil fuels in much larger scales than cloud seeding projects, the potential harmful effects of chemicals like silver iodide is almost overshadowed by smokestacks spewing kilotons of pollution to the environment.

Considering Hydro Tasmania case, the company action of holding all cloud seeding operations can be thought as a virtuous action so they can review the program. This shows the willingness of the company to compromise its profit for the safety of the public. Virtue ethics would propose that cloud seeding research can be trusted to moral developers, but would governments take all the responsibility for ensuring this? In addition, this approach does not guarantee the misapplication or long term effects of cloud seeding.  A relevant evidence is the invention of CFCs products which made refrigeration achievable turned to be destructive to Ozone.

Group 75: Asaad Almaqbali, David, A. Zakwani, Ahmed Badi

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12 thoughts on “When scientists perform the rain dance

  1. I am looking forward to the practical applications of this technology in the future, and personally I highly encourage using it, the advantages of this technology clearly outweighs it’s disadvantages, and as mentioned in the article the other pollutants derived from oil industry and other growth enhancements and chemicals used in growing crops are already overwhelming the side effects of cloud seeding (silver ions). Furthermore, this technology is already being used in several countries such as: Russia, China and our neighbors the United Arab Emirates. In my country the Sultanate of Oman, we lack secure water resources as much as any other arid country; We live on the extremely rare rain, underground water(which is endangered by salinity, bacteria and depletion), and the desalinated sea water(which is expensive); so this technology is more than welcomed to be applied widely in my country and other arid countries to boost and protect our agricultural areas.

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  2. doing further research on cloud seeding would increase our meteorological knowledge base. But wont it be from a moral and sustainable angle to enhance our water consumption methods and decrease the water load. A few technologies does exists in the agricultural industry, with the use of hydroponics, hydroponics and aquaponics .

    This dose not indeed elemental the human daily need for water in light of modern urbanization phenomena.

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    1. I agree on your point that changing our behavior to suit the environment would be better, except that can we actually do this? who needs to lead this initiative? Other people argue that this technology is cheaper which means it is more affordable for countries that can pay say for desalinated.

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  3. An excellent article discussing very important climate element.
    I have one question and one comment

    -Are you aware about any use of this technique ” cloud seeding ” in the dry area in Middle East particularly Arabian gulf?

    -The article put significant emphasis on the downside of cloud seeding , however I belive the potential benefits of cloud seeding will outweigh any possible damage.
    For example , drought is causing famine in many parts of the the would including Africa and Asia with thousands of people die every year . Clouds seeding could play important role in solving this matter .

    In regards to the floods ,climate change and toxic effects of sliver nitrate , I would expect these will resolve with advancement in seeding the technology.

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    1. I was also going to bring up the use of cloud seeding in the Middle East. I spend much of the year in Abu Dhabi, an arid but highly humid area by the coast. The government has been increasingly using cloud seeding to increase the amount of rainfall to reduce the amount of water stress in the area (for humans use and for wildlife), and it’s worked fairly effectively.
      I feel like they are still trying to master this technique as this year there was a large amount of flooding and storms that are usually nonexistent in this country. This lead to a large amount of damage to property and infrastructure that just wasn’t designed for that kind of climate.
      So in summary I agree with you that this blog didn’t fully explore the benefits of cloud seeding, especially is this is a very young technology

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    2. Thank you Abdullah and Dann.
      I’ll try here to comment on the points you have mentioned in turn.

      Regarding use of this technology in the Middle East, the lack of published quantitive data is the problem. We’d like to use such information in the discussion. Sometimes when we cannot represent something in numbers, we wouldn’t be able to analyse it.

      I find this chart informative on the use of different weather modification technologies around the globe. Please have a look.

      Importing the economy of seeded areas and reducing crops damage are two benefits. That’s a good point on famine and water sources. But we still have the question whether water gained from cloud seeding is clean enough for consumption? Can we ensure that any devastating event such as Tasmania floods is not related and caused by seeding? Think about poorer countries that might use this technology but not able to provide protection for its people in the case of such a disaster.

      I think the price of this technology is also an important factor comparing to other technologies. We mentioned a related point and that this technology might be used to replenish groundwater.

      You’re right concerning the advancement of the technology but what if we produce even more toxic materials? In fact, many patents have been acquired for new materials.
      http://www.emirates247.com/news/emirates/masdar-institute-files-patent-for-innovative-cloud-seeding-material-2017-02-01-1.647400
      I believe this related to one of our options​ that we proceed research to expand our knowledge on the long term effects of such materials.

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  4. First of all I do have to mention that this is a very well written article. From what I have read, I do agree that this technology has advantages that outweighed the minor disadvantages and it would benefit those who are in need of it greatly. I do have a question about the application of this cloud seeding technology. My question is will this technology be applicable in dry areas? It is known that in dry areas clouds are non existant for a long period of time. Will this technology be able to seed the clouds in those areas?

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    1. Hello Rashdi,
      Thank you for your question. The question you asked means that you have a good understanding of the technology. We didn’t want to go into details on how the technology works because it would appear as a technical report and hard to understand for some people. To answer your question, as long as there is enough humidity in the air it is possible to take advantage of this technology. Even in dry areas the air usually contains some water. However, this is really region dependant. Also, you can actually take advantage of seasonal clouds.
      I hope this answers your question.

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  5. It might work in large quantities of silver iodide, their are other factors also to consider that also need to be considered such as wind, temperature etc. However from a medical point of view, this is not great at all as silver toxicity on the long run will surely cause harm to humans and any living including plants.

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  6. Hydro Tasmania is an organisation that runs on engineering and scientific expertise and we welcome the dialogue and debate on these topics by our engineers and scientists of the future.

    A strategic review of the June floods which affected many Tasmanian communities and businesses is currently underway. We, along with many other interest groups in Tasmania, are participating in this review and expect to see some outcomes in the final report in June. Submissions to the review, including ours which provides information on cloud seeding, can be found on the Tasmanian Government website http://www.dpac.tas.gov.au/government_flood_review

    Other statements that may be of interest are our Cloud Seeding FAQs and our recent media statement confirming that cloud seeding will not resume in 2017 (hyperlinks below).

    https://www.hydro.com.au/system/files/cloud-seeding/2014/CloudSeeding_FAQ_updated_May_2014.pdf

    https://www.hydro.com.au/about-us/news/2017-03/cloud-seeding-will-not-proceed-2017

    These public review processes are important and we are pleased to see students engaging on these topics that are relevant to Tasmania and our energy and water futures.

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  7. Thanks for taking the time to write, and sending the article. The article reinforces our position that Geoengineering and weather modification is already happening and employs the use of cloud seeding by aircraft.. Weather Modification History : https://weathermodificationhistory.com

    The practice of polluting via cloud seeding causes harm to people and our precious environment.
    http://zerogeoengineering.com/2016/cloud-seeding-the-technology-of-fraud-and-deceit/
    CLOUD SEEDING
    The technology of fraud and deceit

    The purpose of this publication is to expose the fraud, deceit and dangers of uncontrolled and unregulated cloud seeding; to reveal to the public that cloud seeding is not rainmaking and that 90% of all cloud seeding is employed expressly for the purpose of decreasing rainfall. Also, that cloud seeding is the weapon responsible for our serious air pollution problems.

    We have lab tests that show that what goes up in the sky, comes down in the rain and snow, and on us via the Geoengineering footprint in many states and nations: http://zerogeoengineering.com/lab-tests/

    We have to keep in mind that controlling the weather is a military objective.
    http://zerogeoengineering.com/2016/weather-as-a-force-multiplier-owning-the-weather-in-2025/
    Weather as a Force multiplier: Owning the Weather in 2025

    http://zerogeoengineering.com/2016/systems-silver-iodide-weather-modification/
    Silver Iodide / Weather Modification

    http://zerogeoengineering.com/2016/benign-weather-modification/
    Benign Weather Modification

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