Saudi Arabia launches cloud seeding operation over three cities to increase rainfall

The world's top oil exporter is turning to cloud-seeding.
Derya Ozdemir

Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil exporter, is turning to cloud-seeding to increase rainfall.

The country initiated the first phase of its cloud-seeding operation in areas above the capital Riyadh, al-Qassim, and Hail on Tuesday, according to Arab News.

The weather modification technique is being executed as part of an effort to increase the country's yearly rainfall, which does not exceed 100 millimeters a year, by 10 to 20 percent.

How is cloud seeding done?

Cloud-seeding is a technique that involves introducing chemicals to clouds, like small particles of silver iodide, to induce more rain from a cloud. This causes water droplets to congregate around them, and the water particles clash with one another, growing larger and increasing the likelihood of rainfall.

As one of the driest countries in the world, Saudi Arabia's project aims to reduce desertification via rainfall, which is one of the objectives of Green Saudi Arabia, an initiative aimed at increasing the country's vegetation and improving its adaptability to climate change.

Ayman Ghulam, head of the National Center of Meteorology and supervisor of the cloud-seeding program, said the program's operations room opened on Monday at the center's headquarters in Riyadh, and the first flights took place in the capital's vicinity, according to Gulf News. He stated that they met their objectives in terms of the results and timeliness of the seeding operations. The center will provide quarterly updates on developments.

The program will track cloud formations across the country to find the optimal locations for seeding efforts, which would use “environmentally friendly” materials to increase precipitation in targeted areas.

The cloud seeding initiative, according to Gluham, is one of the "promising ways" of preserving water balance in a safe, adaptable, and cost-effective manner.

What are the negative effects of cloud seeding?

Similar technology is being used by many other countries.

Another country that has used the cloud seeding technique extensively is China. The country has spent millions of dollars to alter the weather before major gatherings, such as the 2008 Beijing Olympics. China's State Council said in 2020 that by 2025, the country will have a "developed weather modification system" encompassing more than 1.35 billion acres (5.5 million square km) with artificial rainfall and 143 million acres (580,000 square km) with hail suppression.

The technology is also used in the United States, with Idaho Power, a private utility servicing over 500,000 consumers in southern Idaho and eastern Oregon, being a good example. The Independent reports that Idaho Power has utilized cloud seeding to supplement its hydroelectric power generation for nearly two decades.

However, not all scientists are convinced and trust the technique as the percentage of precipitation increase provided by cloud seeding is reportedly not very high, with the results being "mixed".

With the effects of climate change worsening each year, countries around the world are feeling obliged to consider such technologies. Last summer, for example, the United Arab Emirates had to turn to drones to combat the searing heat. The country used drones that fly into clouds and discharge electricity to kickstart rain in Dubai. 

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