China will start making rain once a system it is building in the Tibetan mountains succeeds.
According to Chinese newspaper, South China Morning Post, the country is going to install an “enormous network of fuel-burning chambers” high up on the Tibetan mountains and this is going to increase rainfall in the region by up to 10 billion cubic metres a year.
This according to estimates will account to about 7 per cent of China’s total water consumption.
The researchers involved in the project told the daily newspaper that tens of thousands of chambers will be built at selected locations across the Tibetan plateau, Asia’s biggest freshwater reserve, to produce rainfall over a total area of about 1.6 million square kilometres – the size of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.
The reports say that the chambers will burn solid fuel to produce silver iodide, a cloud-seeding agent with a crystalline structure much like ice. The chambers are being built on steep mountain ridges facing the moist monsoon from south Asia and as the winds hits the mountain, it will produce an upward draft and sweeps the particles into the clouds to induce rain and snow.
“[So far,] more than 500 burners have been deployed on alpine slopes in Tibet, Xinjiang and other areas for experimental use. The data we have collected show very promising results,” a researcher working on the system told the South China Morning Post.
The newspaper says that the system is being developed by the state-owned China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation – a major space and defence contractor that is also leading other ambitious national projects, including lunar exploration and the construction of China’s space station.
“Space scientists designed and constructed the chambers using cutting-edge military rocket engine technology, enabling them to safely and efficiently burn the high-density solid fuel in the oxygen-scarce environment at an altitude of over 5,000 metres (16,400 feet)”, the newspaper quotes the researcher who declined to be named.
While the United States has done similar experiments, the Chinese site is the first to attempt such a large-scale application of the technology.
“The chambers’ daily operation will be guided by highly precise real-time data collected from a network of 30 small weather satellites monitoring monsoon activities over the Indian Ocean. The ground-based network will also employ other cloud-seeding methods using planes, drones and artillery to maximise the effect of the weather modification system,” said the newspaper.
China and other countries, including Russia and the United States, have been researching ways to trigger natural disasters such as floods, droughts and tornadoes to weaken their enemies in the event of severe conflict.
One of the biggest challenges the rainmakers faced was finding a way to keep the chambers operating in one of the world’s most remote and hostile environments.
“In our early trials, the flame often extinguished midway [because of the lack of oxygen in the area],” the researcher said. “But now, after several improvements to the design, the chambers should be able to operate in a near-vacuum for months, or even years, without requiring maintenance.”
In 2016 researchers from Tsinghua, China’s leading research university, first proposed a project – named Tianhe or Sky River – to increase the water supply in China’s arid northern regions by manipulating the climate.
Ma Weiqiang, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research, said a cloud-seeding experiment on such a scale was unprecedented and could help answer many intriguing scientific questions.