Rain in UAE: What you need to know

This week UAE saw rain helped by cloud seeding. What is the substance that was released in the air, and how does it affect health and environment?

Whenever there are clouds, the aircrafts of the National Center of Meterology and Seismology (NCMS) take off to 'seed' these clouds. Rain droplets that may otherwise never have made it to UAE soil are in this way enabled to provide the country with the much required rain.

This week UAE residents were surprised with mid-summer springs;  light drizzles over the emirate of Dubai and heavy downpours in the northern emirates.

But what exactly are these airplanes releasing in the atmosphere to enable this rain?

Other than the more commonly applied chemical silver iodide, the airs of the UAE are filled with nothing more than what nature already contains: salt, said Omar A. Al Jazeedi, Director Research, Development & Training Department at the NCMS.

This technique is applicable to the tropical climate of the UAE, where clouds sway over land on a low altitude and are shaped as the so-called cumulus clouds.

"We make use of the updraft underneath the cloud. We seed the clouds from underneath, after which the air stream goes up, just like a volcano."

The flares that are ignited underneath these clouds contain of mostly salt, and to some extend magnesium. Each flare that is ignited contains of 1% of salt, explains Omar.

"There is nothing in this technique that affects the health of people or the environment," assured Omar. "If that was the case it would have been banned."

Cloud seeding is currently applied in 150 projects by 37 countries, and there are international standards set to regulate the amount of permitted components released.

For silver iodide, which is used in most projects, the permitted amount is 50 microgram for each liter, explained Omar.

However, there are no standards for the permitted amount of salt released, because the atmosphere already contains large amounts of salt. "The atmosphere is a big chemistry lab. Nobody is discussing the standard for salt released because what we release is nothing compared to what is already there," said Omar.

On average NCMS aircraft are taking off as much as 150-160 days of the year. "Whenever we see clouds, we seed them."

On one day, the mission may contain 6-9 flights and on every flight 6-7 clouds are seeded.

The economic benefits are great, said Omar. "We cannot scientifically proof which portion of the rain was enabled by cloud seeding, and what was natural rain. But the technique allows for an enhancement of rain starting from 5% and sometimes going up to 60%.

"With an enhancement of 20-25%, the economic benefits would be equal to half a million dirham," he said when asked whether the project was viable.

To indicate the benefits, he explained: "A couple of years ago we had rain for 3 continuous days with the help of cloud seeding. In those three days the rain produced was equal to the amount of water generated through desalination over 9 years.

"Anything promising of a solution to the water scarcity problem in the UAE is worth running after."

Cloud seeding is a form of weather modification with the aim of changing the amount or type of precipitation that falls from clouds, by dissolving substances into the air that encourage the process of condensation, with the desired result of rain or in some cases suppression of hail.

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