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Scientists made it rain in Dubai… with drones

The government of Dubai is using drones to create artificial rainstorms to combat the country’s relentless heat.

You’ve got it to give it to scientists, they’re making the world a much cooler place… literally.

The National Centre of Meteorology in the United Arab Emirates released images of a rainstorm lashing Ras al Khaimah, a region in the northern UAE.

cloud seeding drone
Photo: thenationalnews.com

While the footage is convincing enough for anyone to mistake it for real rain, it was actually created by scientists from the University of Reading in England via a process called “cloud seeding”.

Cloud seeding consists of shooting a drone into the sky.

These drones are sensitive to: “the temperature and electric charge of the [surrounding] clouds”.

Using this information, scientists can command the drones to send an electric charge into the clouds, resulting in water droplets clumping together and falling as rain.

The size of the droplets also plays a significant factor in the success of artificial rain. The smaller the droplet, the higher the chance it has of evaporating before it reaches the ground.

When speaking with CNN, Keri Nicoll, a meteorologist working on the project, shared that it was necessary to understand “the behaviour of clouds” to solve this issue.

Simply put, the research shows that “when cloud droplets have a positive or negative electrical charge, smaller droplets are likely to merge and grow to become big raindrops”.

“What we are trying to do is to make the droplets inside the clouds big enough so that when they fall out of the cloud, they survive down to the surface,” explained Nicoll.

Four drones were built for the experiment, each one with a wingspan of approximately 2 metres.

Apart from the heat (which can easily reach as high as 46 degrees Celsius), many hope that the research will help solve the ongoing problem of the country’s shrinking water table and its reliance on desalination plants for useable water.

It has been found that the country receives a total of 100mm of rainfall on average.

Professor Maarten Ambaum, a meteorologist from the University of Reading, had this to say on the project: “The water table is sinking drastically in [the] UAE and the purpose of this is to try to help with rainfall.”

The UAE’s desalination plants (infrastructure where seawater is converted into freshwater by removing its salt) provide the majority of the country’s drinking water and “42 per cent of all water used in the country”.

However, Nicoll states more work will need to be done to perfect the process. “There’s still a long way to go to definitively see how effective cloud seeding weather modification is at enhancing rainfall,” she said.