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Artificial weather generally involves using technology to control when clouds produce rain or snow. This can be done for a number of reasons, and they are not limited to governmental use.
Sometimes rain can be artificially induced to relieve drought in areas which have not received rainfall for extended amounts of time, or to put out forest fires.
Conversely, it can also be used to make sure skies are clear for major national events, or to improve airport visibility.
Ski resorts can even use it to improve snowfall, and hydroelectric companies may also want extra rainfall to boost power generation.
Yesterday, China’s cabinet announced it would extend a programme to produce artificial rain and snow so that it covers an area of 5.5 million square kilometres – an area more than three times the size of Alaska – by 2025, according to Reuters.
The State Council said it hoped to have “advanced” abilities in place by 2035, which could include boosting rural regions and easing natural disasters.
China has made efforts to control the weather for years. It used weather manipulation to make sure the Beijing Olympics in 2008 were free of rain.
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In 2018, the state-owned Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation started work on building thousands of machines capable of causing rain, and placing them across the Tibetan Plateau – a mountainous region where much of China’s water comes from.
China’s cabinet reportedly said this week that it would continue with this operation.
Rain is induced using a process known as cloud seeding. Usually this involves using machines to pump silver iodide particles into the air, which enter existing clouds.
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These help to collect water vapour in clouds together, and when enough vapour is collected in one place it forms a raindrop which can then fall to Earth.
As such, cloud seeding using this method does not introduce water into clouds, but makes them more effective at dumping existing moisture.
Zhang Qiang of the Beijing Weather Modification Office once told the Asia Times that cloud seeding has increased the amount of water in Beijing’s water basins by as much as 13 percent.
Other estimates have claimed cloud seeding can boost rainfall by between five and 15 percent.
There are issues associated with the technology. According to Canadian educational resource site Let’s Talk Science, silver iodide – the chemical used in cloud seeding – is toxic to aquatic life.
This can mean rainfall from clouds that have been seeded may be harmful to the environment. Scientists have investigated using alternatives.
Other downsides include unintended effects. In 1947 the General Electric corporation was sued for damaged after a hurricane was seeded which went on to cause severe damage in the state of Georgia.
The US has also made use of cloud seeding technology as a war weapon.
In a project referred to as ‘Operation Popeye’, the US used cloud seeding in an effort to make the Vietnam monsoon season last longer than normal.
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