Innovative scientists in a prosperous Middle East country are trying to make it rain, as the region faces an increasingly hotter future with diminishing water resources.
Officials from the United Arab Emirates revealed footage showing cars driving in a rainstorm in Ras Al Khaimah, the country’s northernmost region ruled by Sheikh Saud. This unusual downpour was caused by one of the UAE’s newest efforts at increasing rainfall in a country that receives only about four inches per year. (London, by contrast, receives more than 20 inches of rain each year.)
How It Works
So how are they accomplishing this? Scientists have created rainstorms using drones that launch into the clouds and then emit electricity. Researchers discovered that clumping can be caused by jolting the clouds, which results in larger raindrops falling to the ground instead of being vaporized midair. This may work well in the UAE where both temperatures and humidity are high.
Keri Nicoll is one of the scientists from the U.K. who contributed to the creation of this week’s manmade downpours. The UAE Research Program for Rain Enhancement Science awarded $1.5 million to her university a few years back, and it has also invested in multiple research projects over the last several years.
Nicoll and her colleagues designed four drones that could fly for around 40 minutes when launched from a catapult. The drone’s sensors detect temperature, humidity, and electrical charge in a cloud when they’re flying, which tells researchers when and where they should zap the clouds.
Other Water Options
It’s a huge understatement to say that the UAE is extremely concerned about water shortages, especially with a growing population and climate change. About 4 billion cubic meters of water is used annually in the UAE, yet only 4 percent of this amount can be found in renewable water resources. In the UAE, it usually rains only a few days a year. In the summer, it is almost dry. Recently, temperatures reached a staggering 125 degrees.
To increase its water supply, the UAE has also invested a lot into desalination technology, which converts seawater to freshwater by removing salt. This has definitely helped. In fact, most of the UAE’s drinkable water, and over 40 percent of all water it uses, comes from approximately 70 desalination plants. To further conserve water, the government plans to reduce demand by more than 20 percent over the next decade.
There are many ways to increase water supply in the UAE. A few years ago, UAE officials were looking into creating a mountain that could generate rain. The thought was that when moist air reached the mountain tops, it would be forced up, and then cool. That moist air can condense, and then turn into liquid — rain. Another option for getting more water to Dubai is to build a pipeline from Pakistan or floating icebergs from the Arctic.
Time will tell whether the UAE’s conversation strategies and innovative manmade approaches will enable the growing country to meet its water needs. Other water-starved countries will be watching.