Western US States Are Turning to Cloud Seeding to Combat Historic Droughts

Amid the seek for options to world warming, varied types of geoengineering have gained traction. The extra wild concepts—like spraying mud into area to dam out a number of the solar’s rays—are nonetheless being debated. However within the meantime, climate modification within the type of cloud seeding has been applied in varied elements of the world, most not too long ago within the Western US.

Cloud seeding is most frequently carried out by releasing compounds like silver iodide into clouds. The chemical substances operate as a kind of scaffold that water molecules latch onto, turning into heavy sufficient to drop to the bottom as rain. It’s not a brand new expertise; nations around the globe have used it for many years to generate rainfall for crops, and the US authorities even used it in the course of the Vietnam Warfare to extend rainfall throughout monsoon season and make the terrain muddy and troublesome to traverse for enemy fighters.

However the want for cloud seeding is turning into extra pressing and extra widespread as temperatures rise, notably in areas that have been already historically scorching and dry. One such space is the Southwest US; New Mexico and West Texas have by no means been generally known as lush or damp, so now that it’s getting hotter and there’s much less rainfall, it’s not stunning that cloud seeding is coming in helpful. Extra stunning is the expertise’s use in close by states that historically have been wetter, like Colorado, California, and Utah.

The Wall Road Journal reported final weekend that cloud seeding packages are at present underway in all of those states (in addition to Nevada, Idaho, and Mexico), with spending on the expertise reaching as much as $12 million in a single yr.

The additional rainfall isn’t only for crops. With water ranges in essential reservoirs like Lake Mead and Lake Powell not too long ago reaching historic lows, every thing from residential water provide to hydropower era could possibly be underneath menace (although because of heavy snowfall within the Colorado Rockies this previous winter, Lake Powell’s water stage ricocheted again up this spring, rising greater than 41 ft for the reason that starting of 2023).

Colorado’s St. Vrain water district spent $40,000 final yr for winter cloud seeding to extend snowfall within the surrounding mountains. However one downside with cloud seeding is that it’s troublesome to show it really works. Possibly there’s extra rainfall after releasing silver iodide into the air above a given area—however how do we all know there wouldn’t have been extra rainfall regardless?

Nonetheless, there’s loads of proof that factors to actual outcomes. A research carried out in Idaho’s Payette Basin space within the winter of 2017 discovered that cloud seeding produced sufficient snow to fill 300 Olympic-size swimming pools in contrast with clouds that weren’t seeded.

In 2021 the UAE’s Nationwide Heart of Meteorology started seeding clouds close to Dubai. Notably, they used a special method: relatively than releasing silver iodide or different chemical substances into the air, they used drones with cost emitters, which zapped cloud molecules with an electrical cost. Altering the stability of fees on tiny cloud droplets causes them to mix and type raindrops. Within the wake of this exercise, it rained a lot that some streets in Dubai flooded—a uncommon incidence for the dry desert metropolis.

Advocates of cloud seeding say their knowledge present the expertise can enhance rainfall by 15 %, as in comparison with areas the place clouds aren’t seeded. That provides as much as round two additional inches of rain a yr. It doesn’t sound like a lot, however notably in very dry locations, it’s sufficient to maintain crops alive, and it contributes to shoring up underground aquifers.

In lots of elements of the US, we take water without any consideration. We activate the faucet, and out it flows, clear and plentiful. However this might not be the case sooner or later; water is more likely to turn out to be the brand new gold, and discovering methods to get extra of it can turn out to be essential to our well-being and survival.

Whereas cloud seeding is at present extra viable than options like desalination, there’s a restrict to how a lot we are able to manipulate the pure order earlier than we find yourself with undesired knock-on results. For now, pumping chemical substances into clouds will tide us over effectively sufficient—however in time we’ll possible must discover a totally different solution to make it rain, or abandon the driest areas altogether.

Picture Credit score: FelixMittermeier from Pixabay

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