Thursday, March 30

China is experiencing a drought like no other in its history. His solution: seed clouds with drones

In the middle of last week, residents of the northern and southeastern regions of China’s Sichuan province encountered two drones buzzing overhead. For around four hours, the ships covered a wide region of the sky as part of an even more extensive road map of 6,000 square kilometers that lasted several days. The most striking thing, however, was not the models, nor their antics under a scorching sun, but what they were looking for: to bend the pulse of one of the enemies that has been driving the country upside down for some time now.


The persistent drought, as they used to say in Spain.

A little extra help for the clouds. The drones that flew over the Sichuan sky did so following a plan drawn up by the China Meteorological Center (CMA) with a well-defined purpose: to artificially encourage rains and alleviate the drought that is shaking the province. It was not the first attempt, nor was Sichuan the only setting in which the plan was adopted.

The newspaper TheGlobalTimes It specifies that at least a dozen regions in central and southern China have resorted to what is known as “cloud seeding” in an attempt to combat the most intense heat wave in at least the last six decades. According to the calculations of the Asian newspaper, throughout August —until last week— the country deployed 91 flights that accumulated 260 hours and during which tens of thousands of measures were activated to encourage rains.

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And what exactly do they do? The possible to rid China of the consequences of a particularly dry and sultry summer, marked by the most intense heat wave since at least 1961, the year in which meteorological data began to be collected. The so-called “cloud seeding” is not new and has already been applied in other places, such as the US, Saudi Arabia or even in Spain, where we resort to a similar philosophy to intensify the rains or avoid hailstorms.

In cases such as China, silver iodide particles or other aerosols are released in clouds with sufficient moisture content to encourage precipitation. That in general. When it comes to putting it into practice, the execution is somewhat more complex and depends largely on each type of cloud. Deployment can be completed by spraying from aircraft, rockets, or even from the ground. In China, TheGlobalTimes details that at least 2,000 flares have been used.

Many areas of Spain are going to go from 40ºC to autumn in a matter of days.  The culprit: Greenland

But it works? An easy question to ask, but with a complex answer. Its promoters defend its benefits, of course. TheGlobalTimesChinese government media, pointed out that after the artificial seeding maneuvers, the Meteorological Center had predicted rains in western and eastern parts of China and in recent days there were heavy downpours in Chongqing and Sichuan, which does not mean that the authorities maintain the drought alert.

Whether cloud seeding is a determining factor in encouraging rainfall is, however, something subject to debate. “It’s not as simple and it may not be as promising as people want it to be,” William R. Cotton of Colorado State University recently stressed. As a test, he recalls that the percentage increases are usually small, it is difficult to know if the rains are triggered by the planting or are the result of natural processes and the studies usually show disparity in figures.

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An old acquaintance from China. The truth is that the use of technology to alter the weather is not a novelty in China. The Asian giant has already used it before for its crops or to cool cities. The country even displayed a millionaire technical boast just a few months ago to guarantee the presence of artificial snow during the Winter Olympics.

In 2017 the country, which faces a serious challenge due to the unequal distribution of water in its vast territory, had one of the largest weather modification programs in history on the table. The objective: to increase rainfall in almost 10% of its surface.

What is clear: the objective. Of that there is not the slightest doubt. What China is now seeking is to face the worst heat wave in at least the last six decades, with extreme temperatures and a drop in rainfall. Reasons are not lacking. The lack of rain is a challenge with clear economic consequences: crops at risk, restrictions on electricity supply, urban blackouts and forced stoppages in companies, including multinationals, due to energy problems.

In the case of Sichuan, where more than 80% of the energy comes from hydroelectric power, the drop in the level of the reservoirs was a severe setback aggravated by the 25% rise in demand to face, precisely, the wave of heat Result: the authorities were forced to limit or suspend the energy supply. The restrictions affected thousands of factories and among the companies that were forced to suspend operations there are technological multinationals.

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Cover Image | Chris Nagahama (Unsplash)

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