Zapping clouds with electrical currents from unmanned drones could be the key to solving water scarcity
High above the Dubai desert, drones carrying high-tech sensors to measure temperature and humidity circle the skies.
The six-and-a-half feet wide mechanical birds of prey are on the hunt for clouds to zap with an electrical charge from their on-board emitters.
Their payload should theoretically make the small cloud droplets attract one another, merging and growing until they turn into rain drops large enough to withstand the fall to earth.
Images issued by the Gulf nation’s weather bureau showed pounding rain on roads in the city of Ail Ain, and warnings were issued for drivers to take care as highways were engulfed in flash flooding.
In a country that typically has gets around four inches of rain a year, wet weather tires aren’t normally required.
Meteorologist Keri Nicoll and a team of researchers from the University of Reading began testing the effectiveness of zapping clouds to create giant electrically-charged raindrops in May.
Using some of the $1.5 million they received from the UAE Research Program for Rain Enhancement Science, the University of Bath built four drones which are launched from catapults and can fly for up to 40 分钟.
“Human operators on the ground will direct them towards low-hanging clouds, where they will release their charge,“ 这 University of Bath said in a statement in May.
By altering the balance of the negative and positive charges they carry, researchers hope that “cloud droplets can be persuaded to grow and merge, eventually producing rain”.
The unseasonal rainfall this week over the United Arab Emirates appears to have confirmed that the research project is paying dividends.
This new rainmaking technology is distinct from earlier man-made attempts to increase rainfall.
Usually referred to as cloud seeding, these involved aircraft or cannons firing solid particles, usually salt or silver iodide, into clouds to encourage snow and rainfall in dry countries.
First developed in the 1940s, and used to break a drought that threatened to cripple New York City in 1949, cloud seeding can have drawbacks.
Shooting silver iodide into clouds can be toxic to marine life. There are also concerns it could simply be taking rain from another location.
相似地, desalination can cause water temperature to increase and disrupt marine environments.
Clean freshwater is especially an issue in the Middle East and North Africa, where Saudi Arabia in particular has invested billions in the energy-intensive process of extracting salt from the sea.
这 climate crisis is driving weather patterns to greater extremes, threatening a number of regions with water shortages.
Eleven western US states are experiencing historic levels of extreme drought.
According to the World Health Organization, water scarcity impacts 40 per cent of the world’s population, and “as many as 700 million people are at-risk of being displaced as a result of drought by 2030.”
In Eastern Africa, a dispute over an enormous mega dam project on the Nile river has led to increasing tension between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan.
Presumably, every drought-threatened country the world over will be watching the UAE study with great interest.
Zapping clouds with electrical currents could be just the tonic for a drying planet.