WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
Asides from being able to make it rain in places where rain traditionally doesn’t fall there are a lot of questions about the broader impact geo-engineering has on other parts of the globe.
Last year China announced plans to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a highly ambitious geo-engineering project in their northern provinces, and now, they’ve announced another project to manufacture 10 billion tons of rainfall on the Tibetan Plateau by building tens of thousands of chemical furnaces. I say they should come and live where I live because I think I had that amount of rain fall on my head yesterday near London… anyway, the rainmakers, which were developed by the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, will burn chemical fuel to release silver iodide into the air, and the silver iodide will let water vapour condense, forming clouds that will draw rain.
Hundreds of burners have already been set up in Tibet, a major water source for the Yellow, Yangtze, Mekong and other rivers through China and Asia, with each cloud seeding chamber creating enough clouds and rainfall to cover a 5km area, according to the South China Morning Post.
In all China hopes to bring rainfall and snow to an area of over 1.6 million square kilometres, which is an area about three time the size of Spain. The furnaces were originally developed as a part of a Chinese military program to use weather modification for defensive purposes.
Meanwhile elsewhere there are a number of researchers who are questioning the safety of the rain system, after all releasing silver iodide at ground level can potentially cause health issues for workers in the area. And forcing rainfall over a specific area could mean unpredicted consequences for other areas.
“If you’re making it rain where it wouldn’t otherwise, you’re taking water out of the air that would have rained elsewhere,” says Adam Sobel, an atmospheric scientist at Columbia University.
Still, researchers working on the rainmakers marvel at their efficiency.
“Sometimes snow would start falling almost immediately after we ignited the chamber. It was like standing on the stage of a magic show,” a Chinese researcher said.