Saturday, July 24, 2021

Dubai's cloud-seeding efforts a mixed benefit at best

I have seen several articles about how the Arab Emirate of Dubai has been seeding clouds to cause rain to mitigate the ongoing drought in the area. It is usually reported as an interesting and successful application of science to a persistent and at least partially man-made environmental problem. But the solution has some unfortunate environmental ramifications too.

The idea of seeding clouds with silver iodide in order to force precipitation is not new. It has been around since the 1940s, when the Americans originally developed it as a weapon.

Unfortunately, silver iodide is toxic. There is some evidence that the precipitation it encourages is damaging to marine life, as well as a threat to the purity of Dubai's expensively-desalinated water resources. It also increases water temperature, and its toxicity can also damage precious agricultural soil. Another issue is that provoking rainfall in one place may rob another place of its precipitation (there is, after all, only so much moisture in the air, and the silver iodide treatment does not, in itself, create more).

So, I guess the moral is: be careful what you wish for. These purely technological environmental solutions are often a mixed benefit (for example, look at various attempts to import predatory species to keep down pests over the centuries).

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