Anthropogenic Rainstorms

Riley —  January 3, 2011 — 1 Comment

Apparently scientists in Abu Dhabi are now synthesizing rainstorms in the desert. The top secret project commissioned by Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE, has reportedly cost over $11 million so far, and has produced over 50 rainstorms from otherwise clear skies. This is no joke either – it’s entirely legit. The project is run by the Swiss company Metro Systems International and overseen by the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology. reports that “scientists used large ionisers, which resemble lampshades, to generate fields of negatively charged particles. That in turn creates cloud formation, leading to rain. Over 122 days through the summer months, the emitters were switched on 74 times when atmospheric humidity reached the required level of 30 percent or more. During that time, Al AIn experienced rainfall on 52 occasions on days when the country’s own weather service had predicted no clouds and no rain. The fake storms went so far as to produce hail, wind gales and even lightning, baffling residents.”

This is astounding technology with the capacity to effect enormous change on global agriculture and access to water. It’s so futuristic that I don’t really know what to think of it though. The first question I have is what are the meteorological or atmospheric effects of sucking moisture out of the air in those quantities? You can’t just create water out of nothing, so every drop that falls is a drop accumulated from the ambient moisture of the air, resulting in an unnaturally desiccated local atmosphere. It seems like that would have impacts on things like wind, air pressure, and probably a whole lot more.

Secondly, lampshades? What do these things actually look like and how portable could the be? The ability to move portable storm generators around arid climates would be truly revolutionary, but if the ionizers occupy large buildings this technology becomes more of a tool for wealthy to terraform their land than a tool for a second green revolution. But to be honest, $11 million doesn’t seem like all that big a price tag for the ability to conjure rainstorms. It will be interesting to see where this technology goes. Thoughts?

Sources: HuffPo, The Telegraph,



Riley MacPhee is a recent graduate of Pomona College with a B.A. in Environmental Design and a minor in Philosophy, and has been writing for the JA blog for the last 3 years. He is passionate about architecture and design, and will be applying to M.Arch programs in the fall.

One response to Anthropogenic Rainstorms


    It seems to be a different process, but it sounds similar to the cloud seeding that has been practiced since at least 1946 around the world. In the US, Colorado ski resorts have been perennial cloud seeders.

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