Using artificial rain to fight African droughts

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By UduMA KALU
IS artificial  rain possible? Can rainfall be prevented? If artificial rain is possible, why hasn’t it not been used to combat the myriad of droughts hitting Africa? In the Horn of Africa, countries such as Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya are endlessly plagued by drought so much that it takes the world to rescue them from hunger and death.

The vast Sahara desert which is spreading fast to Nigeria is also home to little or no rain.

If artificial rain is possible, then why hasn’t it been used to  fight desertification and make that area a wetland once again, after all, rainmaking or artificial rain “refers to the act of attempting to artificially induce or increase precipitation , usually to stave off drought .”   If artificial rain is possible, imagine the possibilities it offers to Africa. Forest fires can be stopped. Fires burning our markets, public and private buildings can be stopped. Lakes and rivers such as Lake Chad presently drying up can be refilled.

Droughts stricken Somalis searching for water

Yes, if artificial rain is possible, then its advantages are legion, especially if appiled in Africa. But here,  its possibility or existence is viewed with scepticipism. But then,  in many societies around the world, rain dances  and other rituals have been used to attempt to increase rainfall. Some Native Americans  used rain dances extensively. Romanian  ceremonies known as paparuda  and caloian  were prevalent in Europe. Some United States  farmers  also attempt to bring rain during droughts through prayer, a phenomenon particularly common in US farming regions. These rituals differ greatly in their specifics, but share a common concern with bringing rain through ritual and/or spiritual means. Typical of these ceremonies was then-governor of Georgia Sonny Perdue’s public prayer service for rain, in 2007.

Rain is not made for fun. It has economic and social reasons. But in Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa, because much of what is known about rain making is from the works of native doctors, the art, where it is believable, is even derided and described as fetish, juju, magic and devilish.

In fact, some say rainmaking is not possible. Yet, in Nigeria, instances abound when native doctors chased away rains which threatened some social events.

Also, instances abound when rain making and rain stopping have been used all over the world. In fact, the art has gone beyond rain. It now involves the art of making snow as in China. Indeed, there have been plenty of attempts all over the world to influence the weather with chemical tricks. In Thailand, for example, what is called the ‘fon luang’, or ‘king’s rain’, is aimed at preventing drought, while what are known as ‘hail planes’ regularly take to the skies in Germany to subdue potential hailstorms.

In Vanguard, a colleague told a story about his father who was a native doctor in Imo state and could make rain. Whenever it threatened to destroy their social event, the people would go to the native doctor and beg him to drive away the rain. And he would do it. He would gather some leaves and burn them. As the smoke sailed upwards towards the sky, the cloud scattered, the colleague said. Another journalist said he was a member of a rain making guild in his Mbaise,  Imo state area and knew the leaves the other colleague was talking about. He could make rains fall, he said.

A former Guardian journalist few years ago told the story of how he saw a German engineer drive away rainfall. That was in the 1990s. The reporter was returning from a trip from Asaba to his home  in Idimuje, Aniocha North LGA of Delta state. By this time, it was the cloud was gathering and was threatening to rain. Julius Berger was in charge of the work At the Isele Uku junction. The reporter said he saw the white engineer shoot a short gun into the sky, and gradually, the thick clouds began to scatter and disappear. That rain did not fall.

The reporter had walked up to the engineer and asked him what he shot into the sky that made the cloud scatter. The man said there was a chemical in the gun which he shot at the cloud. It was the chemical that drove away the cloud, he said. The journalist said the chemical could perhaps be the same that native doctors in his native village used to drive away rain.

In fact, a Yoruba native doctor in Ogun State told this reporter that he could make rain. He said he would gather some leaves, set fire on the end of the bunch and hook it on a corner of a house, with the lighted part pointed towards the cloud. The smoke from the fire would then drift to the cloud and drive away the cloud.

In October 2009, when the Republic of China celebrated its 60th birthday, rain threatened the day but the government did not want the rain. It shot some chemicals from rockets into the sky. It worked. And though it was grey, the sun came out at the right time. During Musharraf’s regime in Pakistan, there was artificial rain, with helicopters equipped to bring artificial rain in parts of the country.

How rain is formed

The oceans are the main source of rain, but lakes and rivers also contribute to it. The sun’s heat evaporates the water. It remains in the air as an invisible vapour until it condenses, first into clouds and then into raindrops. Condensation happens when the air is cooled.  Air cools either through expansion or by coming into contact with a cool object such as a cold landmass or an ice-covered area. When air passes over a cold object, it loses heat and its moisture condenses as fog, dew, or frost. Air also cools as it rises and expands. The water vapour in the cooling air condenses to form clouds and, sometimes, rain.

How rain is dispersed

From a technology developed by American scientists, cloud seeding is achieved by shooting shells or rockets containing silver iodide particles into clouds. The icy particles freeze drops in the clouds, make the drops continue growing and eventually fall out of the clouds.   Seeding clouds with silver iodide, salts and dry ice to form larger raindrops create a downpour.

In 2008, Chinese meteorologists worked on a scheme to guarantee clear skies for the opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing on August 8, even though summer is the rainy season and August 8 usually carries a 50 percent chance of rain.

Basically, the Chinese figured out a way to reverse the process that meteorologists use to encourage rain to fall. Chinese meteorologists used a similar technique to reduce the size of raindrops and prevent them from falling, creating a temporary umbrella over the stadium until the clouds drifted away. The Beijing weather engineering office, under the Beijing Municipal Meteorological Bureau, took the lead in the Olympic weather modification project.  The weather engineering office wove a defensive web from adjacent provinces to the Beijing suburbs. Twenty-six control stations were deployed to fend off clouds or delay their movement.

The office hired 32,000 people, and recruited light aircraft, rockets and shells to spread silver iodide crystals or dry ice in clouds 50 km upwind of Beijing. Result estimates were reported from control stations to the headquarters within 10 minutes.

One silver iodide shell costs up to 88 yuan (12.75 U.S. dollars),one rocket is priced at 2,000 yuan (290 U.S. dollars), and one aircraft trip spends much more. About 100 shells or four rockets are used in each single action, according to experts.

Many meteorologists agree that cloud seeding technology is only effective to small or mid-sized clouds and thus impossible to influence giant storm systems, which can cover up to a hundred square kilometers. The methodology is employed basically to speed up rain, delay rain, or change the place where rain falls, one Beijing-based expert said.

Some meteorologists, meanwhile, argue the study on cloud formation and large-scale weather conditions is insufficient to effective weather modification. Others dispute on the negative impact of spreading silver iodide in the sky on environment.

How artificial rain is made

Cloud seeding, a form of intentional weather modification , is the attempt to change the amount or type of precipitation  that falls from clouds , by dispersing substances into the air  that serve as cloud condensation  or ice nuclei , which alter the microphysical processes within the cloud. The usual intent is to increase precipitation (rain or snow), but hail and fog suppression are also widely practiced in airports.

The most common chemicals  used for cloud seeding include silver iodide  and dry ice  (solid carbon dioxide ) rather than salt. Liquid propane, which expands into a gas, has also been used. This can produce ice crystals at higher temperatures than silver iodide. The use of hygroscopic  materials, such as salt, is becoming more popular after promising research.

Wikipaedia says seeding of clouds requires that they contain supercooled  liquid water—that is, liquid water colder than zero degrees Celsius. Introduction of a substance such as silver iodide, which has a crystalline  structure similar to that of ice, will induce freezing  nucleation . Dry ice or propane  expansion cools the air to such an extent that ice crystals can nucleate spontaneously from the vapor  phase. Unlike seeding with silver iodide, this spontaneous nucleation does not require any existing droplets or particles because it produces extremely high vapor supersaturations near the seeding substance. However, the existing droplets are needed for the ice crystals to grow into large enough particles to precipitate out.

In mid-latitude clouds, the usual seeding strategy has been based on the fact that the equilibrium vapour pressure  is lower over ice than over water. The formation of ice particles in supercooled clouds allows those particles to grow at the expense of liquid droplets. If sufficient growth takes place, the particles become heavy enough to fall as precipitation from clouds that otherwise would produce no precipitation. This process is known as “static” seeding.

Seeding of warm-season or tropical cumulonimbus  (convective) clouds seeks to exploit the latent heat  released by freezing. This strategy of “dynamic” seeding assumes that the additional latent heat adds buoyancy, strengthens updrafts, ensures more low-level convergence, and ultimately causes rapid growth of properly selected clouds.

Other science sources say cloud seeding chemicals may be dispersed by aircraft (as in the second figure) or by dispersion devices located on the ground (generators, as in first figure, or canisters fired from anti-aircraft guns  or rockets ). For release by aircraft, silver iodide flares  are ignited and dispersed as an aircraft flies through the inflow of a cloud. When released by devices on the ground, the fine particles are carried downwind and upwards by air currents  after release.

An electronic mechanism was tested in 2010, when infrared  laser  pulses were directed to the air above Berlin  by researchers from the University of Geneva . The experimenters posited that the pulses would encourage atmospheric sulfur dioxide  and nitrogen dioxide  to form particles that would then act as seeds.

Rain-making as government business

 US rain for war, agriculture

Operation Popeye  was a US military rainmaking operation to increase rains over Vietnam  during the Vietnam War  in order to slow Vietnamese military truck activity in the region. China has been seeding clouds for years, while American policy makers and scientists are beginning to take rainmaking seriously once again.

Again in US, Austrian-American psychoanalyst William Reich  designed a “cloudbuster “ with which he said he could manipulate streams of orgone energy (which he claimed was a primordial cosmic energy) in the atmosphere to induce rain by forcing clouds to form and disperse. In 1953, a drought threatened Maine ‘s blueberry crop, and several farmers offered to pay Reich if he could make it rain. The weather bureau had reportedly forecast no rain for several days when Reich began the experiment at 10 a.m. on July 6, 1953.

The Bangor  Daily News reported on July 24 that the experiment had succeeded and Reich had received his fee. Reich was later arrested and convicted for related medical experiments and all his research materials and books were ordered to be burned  by a Maine judge (on request of the FDA ), which was done on August 23, 1956.

China’s rain, snow for sports, anti drought

China, the world’s biggest grain producer, experienced the worst drought in five decades. The drought hit about 136 million mu (9.1 million hectares) of winter wheat in eight major producing provinces, and left 3.5 million people and 1.66 million livestock with no access to drinking water. China employed artificial means to create rain in at least seven provinces  and two An-26 freighters successfully created moderate rainfall in Henan’s northwest and Anhui’s north, covering more than 100,000 square kilometers.

Indian scientists

Indian scientists at the Pune-based Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology    (IITM) are reportedly set to create artificial rain to combat drought in their country. In fact, there were reports of planes shooting chemicals in North of India for rain to fall over the drought stricken part of that country.  It  was a three-year project.

Australia to use his artificial rainmaking against drought        His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej reportdely gave permission to Australia’s state of Queensland to use his innovative techniques of artificial rainmaking to combat the region’s ongoing drought.
Prof Dr Soottiporn Chittmittrapap, secretary-general of the Office of theNational Research Council of Thailand (NRCT), said the Thai foreign ministry received a letter from Queensland’s premier seeking His Majesty’s approval to use the monarch’s artificial rain-making techniques to solve the drought in the state. Dr Soottiporn said that Queensland would coordinate with the NRCT and the Bureau of Royal Rainmaking and Agricultural Aviation regarding the operation process of artificial rainmaking. King Bhumibol devoted himself to study and develop the artificial rain technique since 1955 as rainfall is considered crucial for the majority of Thai people whose lives depend on agriculture, while drought remains a common problem in some parts of the country, particularly the Northeast.
After many experiments by His Majesty and the rainmaking team, the operation produced a successful outcome. “Royal Rain” was officially named by the Thai cabinet in 1974, with the formation of the “Royal Rain-Making Operation Office” under the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives in the following year.

Royal rain-making involves a process of precipitate water vapour in the atmosphere, condensed into minute water particles as rain clouds. Further precipitation brought about by cooling brings rainfall.

Thailand’s Intellectual Property Department registered a patent for the royal rain-making to the king in 2003. Two years later, the European Patent Office issued the patent named “Weather Modification by Royal Rainmaking Technology” which is valid in 30 European countries for the Thai monarch.

Artificial rain project in Horn of Africa 

Aquiess, a company expert on weather modification, is in talks with Qatar for a possible sponsorship of their ‘Rainaid’ Campaign aimed at bringing rain in the Horn of Africa to put an end to the devastating drought-famine currently experienced in the region.

The project which will cost $10m will bring gentle soaking rain to the Horn of Africa using the Oceanic Rainfall Acquisition (ORA) technology, an effective system which has been developed for decades and tested for over 10 years.

The company has been successful in more than 80 percent of cases, delivering oceanic rainfall to combat drought, famine and wildfires in Australia, UAE, Saudi Arabia and USA. In Qatar, ORA has also proven effective bringing four gigalitres of rain in Ramadan in 2009, equal to the volume of water supplied in the country for 10 days. And as a follow-up, they again delivered 35 gigalitres of rain in the country. Unlike cloud seeding and other artificial means of bringing rain, Miles said ORA works on a larger scale. This technology is based on systematic delivery of an electromagnetic waveform that resonates with atmospheric weather patterns, to adjust the path of rain bearing cloud systems. These signals can influence global moisture flow patterns and harness the natural moisture ‘rivers’ in the atmosphere to divert these to targeted destinations to create rainfall. Miles said they are targeting the next 21 days to bring rain to the affected areas.

Rainaid is seen as the key to an early recovery in the area, seriously affected by repeated failed harvests and cycles of drought which have destroyed livestock and crops and left its populations without the means of recovery for years to come.

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