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UAE plans to build 'man-made mountain' to increase rainfall

Cloud seeding aims to increase condensation within the cloud and trigger precipitation [Getty]

Date of publication: 2 May, 2016

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Abu Dhabi is working to build a man-made mountain in the UAE, which it hopes will increase rainfall amid concerns over water security.

Researchers in the United Arab Emirates are at the first stage of a scheme to build a man-made mountain, as the country looks for alternative methods to increase rainfall.  

Experts from the US-based University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) are carrying out a "detailed modelling study" for the project, according to Arabian Business.

"What we are looking at is basically evaluating the effects on weather through the type of mountain, how high it should be and how the slopes should be," said Roelof Bruintjes, scientist and lead researcher at the UAE's National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).

"We will have a report of the first phase this summer as an initial step," he added.

The NCAR received $400,000 for the project in February last year, in collaboration with the National Center of Meteorology & Seismology (NCMS).

The presence of mountains forces air to rise, creating clouds that can then be seeded, Bruintjes explained.

Mountains intercept the global circulation of air, affecting wind, precipitation and temperature patterns.

However, building a mountain is "not a simple thing", says Bruintjes.

"We are still busy finalising assimilation, so we are doing a spread of all kinds of heights, widths and locations [as we simultaneously] look at the local climatology."

What we are looking at is basically evaluating the effects on weather through the type of mountain, how high it should be and how the slopes should be.
- Roelof Bruintjes

According to Arabian Business, NCMS recently revealed that $558,000 was spent on cloud seeding in the UAE last year.

"If [the project] is too expensive for [the government], logically the project won't go through, but this gives them an idea of what kind of alternatives there are for the long-term future," Bruintjes said.

"If it goes through, the second phase would be to go to an engineering company and decide whether it is possible or not."

The specific location has not yet been determined, as NCAR experts are still testing out different sites across the UAE.

Cloud seeding

Cloud seeding - a weather modification technique designed to increase the amount of rainfall - has a permanent unit at the NCMS's meteorological department, which conducts operations across the UAE.

Operations typically take between two and three hours, with a twin-propeller plane releasing salt crystals into selected clouds.

The goal is to increase condensation within the cloud and trigger precipitation.

Earlier this month, NCMS meteorologist Sufian Farrah said that cloud seeding operations over the country played a part in record rainfall in March.

Between January and the end of March, he says, 77 seeding operations took place - more than three times as many as during the same period last year.

Operations typically take between two and three hours, with a twin-propeller plane releasing fire salt crystals into selected clouds.

"We covered most of the available clouds in the country, so the rainfall increased," he said, according to Emirati newspaper The National.

Farrah added that only clouds that are expected to generate rain would be targeted.

"Even if we didn't carry out any operations it would rain, but the objective of cloud seeding is rain enhancement, and most of the clouds that are subject to seeding will generate rain," he said.

Last year, NCMS launched a formal research programme for rain-enhancement science that aimed to address water security.

"Due to its arid nature, this country has always been concerned by the issue of water security, leading the Government to devise strategies to put sustainability at the core of its economic development," wrote Alya Saeed al-Mazrouei, the programme's director.

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