I was fascinated to read a recent piece in the IET’s E&T newsletter about China’s 199 million yuan (£22.5m) investment in weather engineering technology.
Controlling where and when it rains feels a bit like playing God and the sort of dastardly plan a megalomaniac in a James Bond movie would come up with. But this is actually happening in real life.
By 2020, China’s weather engineers hope to be able to produce 60 billion cubic metres of on-demand rain in areas suffering from drought each year.
Weather modification isn’t new. Apparently China has been experimenting with weather modification since the 1950s. During the Beijing Olympics in 2008, China’s Weather Modification Program, run by the Weather Modification Department of the Chinese Academy of Meteorological Sciences, was actively tasked with providing decent weather for the duration of the games.
It’s not just China either. There is plenty happening on a global level and companies such as Weather Modification Inc. seeming to be successfully trading in Fargo, North Dakota.
The science behind weather modification is based on a technique known as cloud-seeding, whereby rockets and artillery shells are fired into the sky to disperse particles of silver iodide to provide ‘seeds’ for water condensation. This article on CNN is worth a read as it covers the technique in a bit more detail and also starts to raise some of the ethical debates about whether we should be trying to manipulate the weather and potential consequences.
Overall I guess I’m torn. The potential for this technology to help solve social challenges in Sub-Saharan Africa (and other places) created by severe drought and famine is incredibly worthy. However the potential for misuse coupled with any real depth of understanding about the consequences of weather modification makes me nervous.
What do you think?