Any mention of desert brings to mind images of sand dunes, dry arid land, sparse bushy vegetation, an occasional cactus, and relentless thirst. If the recent innovations in rain making technology were given their due chance, then desert lands might be a thing of the past. It will be sweet irony if governments might have to work hard to perserve desert sands by marking them as no-rain zones!!
Abu Dhabi, which receives very little rainfall in any given year, experienced around 50 discrete rainfall episosdes coupled with thunder and lightning, during two summer months of July and August 2010. Most of the rainfall was in the Al Ain region of Abu Dhabi. Most of the residents of that region were pleasantly surprised with this weather change, especially in the dead heat of the summer, where the temperatures can regularly go past 52 Celsius
This change in weather is due to the efforts of a secret group of scientists that has been working for Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, United Arab Emirates president. They have embarked on a large scale rain-making experiment that ionizes air particles using large ionizers. There particles rise up in the atmosphere due to hot air induced convection currents. These particles stablize once they reach the height around which clouds begin to form and as they go up they attract dust particles forming a nucleus around which moisture in the air can condense. The charged particles help attract the moisture and over a period of time clouds start forming. And during the night as the temperature cools, the clouds condense and rain down. As these clouds have a lot of charged particles, it results in significant lightning and thunder. In order for the clouds to form, the moisture content in the ambeint air should be at least 30%
Helmut Fuhrer, founder of Metro Systems International that developed the infrastructure for this experiment, indicated that they have acheived a number of rainfalls in Al Ain region of Abu Dhabi. Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, a premier center for research on atmospheric physics, was involved in the monitoring and tracking of the project
Along with all the potential benefits of turning dry land into arable land, being able to produce more food, this ability of making rain in Abu Dhabi serves a more immediate need - to generate fresh water. It is less expensive to produce was this way than through desalination (which the only method at their disposal to get fresh water to the population). It costs about £850 million to build a desalination plant, and the rain making setup (most the cost of the large Ionizers) costs about £7 million. And on an annual basis, it costs about £45 million to run the desalination plant vs. the rain-making infrastructure that requires about £6 million (mostly in electricity costs)
Although this all seems pretty impressive, this experiment needs to be validated over few more years, before we can confirm that the rains were infact the result of the rain-making infrastructure. Abu Dhabi is on an ocean coast, and water vapor from Ocean rises up and results in rain once in a while. If that is the case, were the 50+ rainfall episodes the result of the rain making machine or just an aberration in the weather pattern for 2010, only time will tell. The results are promising enough to continue to pursue this innovation, as this could hold one of the key to solving world hunger and thirst!