UAE looks to UK drone researchers for rainfall boost

UAE looks to UK drone researchers for rainfall boost
An aircraft fitted for cloud seeding operations aimed at increasing rain. (Supplied)
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Updated 16 March 2021

UAE looks to UK drone researchers for rainfall boost

UAE looks to UK drone researchers for rainfall boost
  • Emirates investing heavily in raising freshwater supplies
  • Nine ‘rain enhancement’ projects given $15m of funding

LONDON: British researchers have been tasked by the UAE to explore ways to induce rainfall in the Gulf by using drones that beam electricity into clouds.

The UAE has paid $1.4 million to the UK team to test how an electric charge can expand and merge water droplets to develop into rainfall.

This is a new move to promote “cloud seeding” in a country that uses aircraft that drop chemicals into clouds to boost rainfall by up to 30 percent, according to its own figures.

Some 80 percent of the UAE’s food supply is imported, promoting concerns about sustainability for the oil-rich nation.

But researchers at the University of Reading hope to buck the rainfall trend by using drones to deliver pulses of charged ions into the atmosphere.

They believe that using low-power electrical bursts on cloud droplets could encourage raindrops to form.

Many countries have used alternative methods to spark rainfall, including spraying salt compounds, silver iodide and dry ice into the atmosphere.

China made headlines before the 2008 Olympic Games opening ceremony in Beijing for influencing the weather with similar methods.

Alya Al-Mazroui, director of the UAE’s rain enhancement science research program, said the remote-controlled drones developed in the UK will be tested at a flight center in Dubai.

“Equipped with a payload of electric charge emission instruments and customized sensors, these drones will fly at low altitudes and deliver an electric charge to air molecules, which should encourage precipitation,” she said.

Dr. Keri Nicoll, an associate professor at the University of Reading who is involved in the project, said: “If you emit a charge within a cloud, very quickly the charge will be gathered up by the water droplets. Our theory and modeling work has shown that charging these small droplets can increase the likelihood of them merging through electrostatic forces, and ultimately help them become raindrops.”

With average rainfall of only 100 mm per year, the UAE is investing heavily in this new research to raise freshwater supplies.

Al-Mazroui said it is too early to predict the efficacy of the study, which is one of nine “rain enhancement” projects that were given $15 million of funding from the UAE’s Ministry of Presidential Affairs in 2017.