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Ever since the dawn of civilisation we have tried to influence the weather. Many early tribes and civilisations would do ‘rain dances’ to encourage the gods to release the water from the sky. Most of the time, it was due to drought that we prayed for rain.
As time has progressed we have come to realise that a dance won’t induce rainfall. But that hasn’t stopped mankind form asking, and pursuing, the question ‘Can we influence the weather?’. The answer is hard to define, we can kind of influence the weather to a certain degree (or at least we believe so) but it depends who you ask. Respected scientists like Michio Kaku claim that kind of technology is still 100 years away, yet others claim we have been using it for the last 100 years.
So, what is the deal? Can we ‘control’ the weather? Influence it? Or should we just enjoy it whilst it’s good? Here we’ll take a look at the history of mankind’s attempts to harness the weather.
The Rain Dance
Before we had any real technology, early tribes would try to induce rain via weather modification rituals. One of the best-known rituals of this type would be the North American rain Dances performed by Native American tribes. However, this ritual is common place across the continents including Africa, China, Thailand and Europe. Whilst these dances were no doubt a sight to behold, the chances of them inducing rain were zero.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, rainmakers roamed across the western United States, promising to end droughts for a fee. They used a combination of showmanship and pseudo-science to convince locals that their device would bring them rain. More often than not the devices simply delivered gases or chemicals into the air. In 1891 the practice of rainmaking was tested with inconclusive results. As the century turned, people began to become sceptical of these salesmen.
Glaciogenic Cloud Seeding
Fast forward to 1946 and the real attempts to change the weather begin. Irving Langmuir and Vincent Schaefer discovered that they could introduce ice crystals into a supercooled cloud and create snow. They enlisted the help of a physical chemist called Bernard Vonnegut who looked for other substances that would create the same effect. Vonnegut eventually came across Silver Iodide and began to work out the basic science of cloud seeding.
His calculations showed that often, the drops of moisture in clouds can't freeze without some extra help. If these drops encounter crystals of silver iodide, they glom onto the crystals and freeze. Once the ice grows big enough, it falls from the cloud, either as snow or, if it passes through warmer air, as rain.
Now they had found a way to master weather in the lab, over the course of the next 30 years, researchers and entrepreneurs across the world began applying the principles developed by Langmuir, Schaefer and Vonnegut to real-world cloud seeding. This included flying planes into clouds and releasing the Silver Iodide as well as loading rocket and artillery shells with the substance and firing them into the clouds.
Most times, these attempts were made to try and stimulate rainfall in drought hit areas. Other uses were found including using cloud seeding to lift fog from busy runways and reducing the size of hail in hailstorms. Despite all of the world-wide attention, scientific evidence that cloud seeding works within a real weather system is scant.
This is very similar in principle to Glaciogenic Cloud Seeding however this time round it involves using salt particles rather than Silver Iodide being seeded into warm clouds.
Some scientists have proposed placing a small layer of biodegradable oil over the sea where hurricanes form to prevent or reduce evaporation which fuels hurricane formation. The theory is that if scientists can change just one or two variables as a storm is beginning to coil itself into a funnel they could possibly diminish its strength.
The Future of Weather Control.
As you can see, the results of mans ability to control weather are mixed with scant evidence that it actually works. This hasn’t stopped countries applying the knowledge. China used cloud seeding to keep the rain away during the 2008 Beijing Olympics by inducing rain to fall before the opening ceremony. It was reported that the US considered cloud seeding during the Vietnam war between 1967 and 1972 to target rainfall on the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
More modern uptakes of weather control have been by the United Arab Emirates whose government has just launched a £3.6m programme, the UAE Research Program for Rain Enhancement Science (UAEREP), to research rain enhancement. Most of the Arab countries are classified as having “extreme water scarcity” according to the UN, and the UAE has been using cloud seeding since the 1990s to keep up with increased demand for fresh water, due to population growth, economic development and lifestyle changes.
Overall, it appears there is still a long way to go to confirm if we can actually affect the weather and provide clean cut proof it works. We certainly appear to have grasped the basics of weather patterns and formation but simply due to the mind-boggling forces involved in nature (a normal thunderstorm contains more energy than a 10-kiloton atomic bomb) it appears we are still a long way from being able to harness or control that power.
For now, it looks like we’ll just have to stick to the good old rain dance.
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