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drones equipped with electric charges will trigger the rain!

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Following the publication of recent results in the Journal of Atmospheric and Ocean Technology, an innovative method to trigger rain will be tested in the United Arab Emirates. This is one of the first times that drones equipped with electric charges will be used to cause precipitation.

The availability of and access to water is a major issue in the arid countries of the intertropical zone. In particular, in a context of global warming of the planet. Among the various means thought out to best manage the problem, we find geoengineering techniques aimed at making the clouds rain. Indeed, some argue that the water is there, very close, in the cumulus clouds and other low clouds which overhang the arid lands and that it is enough simply to know how to get it.

Release electrical charges to make it rain

The easiest way to take advantage of this water is to rush it to the surface. In this regard, a new method will be tested in the coming months in the United Arab Emirates (WATER). It aims to emit an electric shock in low clouds by means of a remotely piloted drone. The goal being to promote the coalescence of water droplets, which would then become heavy enough to fall to the ground. By modifying the charges of the cloud, the scientists hope to reduce the electrostatic repulsions between droplets in order to accelerate their growth.

Schematic representation of the artificial loading of droplets by drone. The successive stages of growth are presented from left to right. In addition, more complex evaporation or explosion processes associated with excess charges are reported. Credits: R. Giles Harrison et al. 2021.

“We have carried out tests in the UK and demonstrated that we can release the drone’s charge and detect it on the ground”, notes Keri Nicoll, co-author of the study and researcher at the University of Bath. “The next step is to repeat these tests in the UAE, where the ambient electrical environment is very different from that of the UK, due to the high levels of dust and aerosols.”.

A “complementary” method

This technique differs drastically from those, more usual, which require to seed the clouds with particles of salt or silver iodide. An evolution which testifies toactive research on the issue of increased rainfall in these countries where water resources are a major issue. The WATER are particularly involved through the research program UAEREP. An international initiative, which combines the work of several institutions around the world.

Prototype of a drone used to release electrical charges, tested here in the United Kingdom. Also, the machine is remotely piloted by human control. Credits: University of Bath.

“In parts of the world that are really struggling for water, projects to increase rainfall are really important. There are 50 countries that have implemented programs to increase rainfall ”, reports Keri Nicoll. Nevertheless, the co-author indicates that“They already practice cloud seeding in the United Arab Emirates” and that’“It is likely that droplet loading alone will not replace established seeding techniques. But this could be used with already existing techniques to maximize the efficiency of cloud seeding ”. Case to follow!

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