NCM drone testing

The National Center of Meteorology has launched a UAV
campaign to test the effectiveness of electric charge emission in
enhancing rainfall
Image Credit:NCM

The UAE's National Center of Meteorology is conducting tests to see
whether electricity can be used during cloud-seeding operations to
enhance rainfall over the country, and mitigate water stress in arid


Alya Al Mazroui, Director of the UAE Research Program for Rain Enhancement Science (UAEREP), explained to Gulf News how clouds could be given a helpful jolt of electric charge to increase much-needed rainfall in the country.


"With the help of Unmanned Arial Vehicles (UAVs), the UAE's NCM along
with a team of national and international experts are conducting
research to test the effectiveness of delivering electric charge into
clouds to improve rainfall," she said.


"The UAE is conducting this campaign with the support of experts from
the NCM, UAEREP and several national and international research and
academic organisations including the University of Reading and
University of Bath in the United Kingdom. The campaign is led by Giles
Harrison, Professor of Atmospheric Physics at the University of Reading
in the United Kingdom and a second cycle program awardee," Al Mazroui


The study is based on an award-winning research proposal by scientists at the University of Reading in 2017.

How does it work?

She explained: "We are using UAVs or drones to conduct these
experiments in the UAE. The UAVs are equipped with a payload of electric
charge emission instruments and customized sensors. These drones will
fly at low altitudes and deliver an electric charge to air molecules."

The study investigates how charge modifies the growth of tiny water
droplets into larger drops that fall as rain. As clouds naturally
carry positive and negative charges, altering the size of the charges
could cause the water droplets to grow and merge, thus producing rain.


"The UAVs fly at low altitudes around a meteorological mast
instrumented with an electric field mill. Charge is emitted by the UAV
and detected at the surface by the electric field mill," according to

The UAVs were developed and tested in the UK, Findland and the UAE.

According to UAEREP, the effectiveness is tested on clear air days,
and once conditions permit, on days with light fog with the presence of
dust particles in the atmosphere, which is expected to lead to more
highly charged conditions.

Since the use of drones needs specific permissions and space, the
experiments are taking place at SANAD Academy, a flight school in Dubai.

How is it different from traditional cloud-seeding?

The charge emission technology uses a small, lightweight vehicle to
deliver charge into the clouds instead of traditional cloud seeding
payloads. This method does not involve the emission of any solid
particles into clouds such as silver iodide or salt.

During traditional cloud seeding flights in the UAE, natural salts or
hydroscopic agents are shot into clouds to enhance rainfall, Alya
Al Mazroui explained.

How cloud-seeding is done in the UAE

The UAE was one of the first countries in the Arabian Gulf
to adopt cloud seeding technology. The programme initially began at the
end of 1990, but by the end of 2000, the fully-fledged project was
carried out in cooperation with a number of organisations and
institutes, including the US space agency Nasa.
The NCM’s cloud
seeding department uses a sophisticated weather surveillance radar
(WSR), which monitors the atmospheric pressure around the clock.
The NCM first gathers required information through weather satellites, pictures and the WSR
seeding missions are only dispatched if rain-bearing cumulus cloud
formations are seen over the country. Once they are identified, the NCM
quickly launches aircrafts carrying salt crystals – mixed with
magnesium, sodium chloride and potassium chloride.

UAE cloud seeding operation
Cloud seeding missions are only dispatched if rain-bearing cumulus cloud formations are seen over the country.
Reaching over the clouds, the pilots shoot the flares
that inject the salts in the upper coldest portion of the clouds. The
process helps develop water droplets that gradually grow in size by
colliding with each other and that’s what the scientists called the
coalescence. These droplets then start dropping and form the rain.

What is cloud seeding?

The reason there's so much rain in the UAE

181031 cloud seeding

Infographic: How cloud-seeding is done in the UAE

However, with the charge emission technology method, no solid
particles are shot into the clouds. Instead, the UAV emits positively
and negatively charged ions, which will attach to cloud droplets and
aerosol or dust particles which are already present in the atmosphere.
"Charge is expected to modify the behaviour of droplets and particles
(such as helping droplets grow), which in turn may influence rainfall
processes," according to the UAEREP.

 The nature of charge emission technology allows the use of a small and lightweight vehicle.

The nature of charge emission technology allows the use of a small and lightweight vehicle.
Image Credit: UAERE

"The other aspect which is different is the platform used to deliver
the charge: the use of UAVs provides a cost effective and flexible
method of delivering charge to cloud layer altitudes. The nature of
charge emission technology means that a small and lightweight platform
can be used, unlike traditional cloud seeding payloads which require
much larger aircraft," an official added.


UAE: A global hub for rain enhancement research

Commenting on the importance of the research, Alya Al Mazroui said:
“...we seek to ensure that their projects are geared towards addressing
the challenges facing water security in arid regions. Through our
partnerships with prominent scientists and research institutions across
the globe, the program is accelerating the development of practical
innovative solutions in the field of rain enhancement science.”

Dr Abdulla Al Mandous, Director of the National Center of Meteorology
(NCM) and President of the Regional Association II (Asia), said: “The
NCM and the UAE Research Program for Rain Enhancement Science are
continuing to support the awardee projects to contribute to the
development of viable solutions for the growing global water stress.
Such efforts are crucial in driving and encouraging innovation in
applied scientific research to advance global rain enhancement capacity.
With the continued support of our wise leadership, NCM is committed to
mitigating the risk of water stress on arid and semi-arid regions around
the world, while enhancing the country’s status as global hub for rain
enhancement research.”