In our favorite superhero universes, the capacity to control nature is an overpowering theme. Marvel character Storm was powerful enough to conjure fogs, tornadoes, and even mighty foods. The Varuna Yajna is a popularly performed ritual in India to appease the Rain Gods during extreme conditions of famine or drought. Rishis and priests immersed themselves in water and chanted mantras, urging the gods to show sympathy. The importance of rain for the well-being of a society is very evident in how most cultures have a similar spiritual practices. When Udupi faced a heartless rainless streak in 2019, the locals conducted a marriage between two frogs to invite the rains. But did you know that humans have found a way to control and manipulate even rainfall with the assistance of modern science?
The technique is called Cloud Seeding. Although the procedure cannot ‘create’ rain, it can help in the enhancement of natural precipitation. Clouds are basically water droplets or ice crystals floating in the sky. These droplets are too tiny to fall as rain but are big enough to form clouds that are visible to the naked eye. When they find a particle of dust or smoke, the droplets collide together and form a blob around it. The particle is known as the ‘condensation nuclei.’ What ‘cloud seeding’ does is introduce more of these particles that these droplets can latch onto, and eventually pour down as rainfall or snowfall.
The primary seeding agent used in this process is silver iodide. This is majorly due to the closeness of silver iodide to the hexagonal structure of ice. Dry ice (solid carbon dioxide) and simple salts like sodium chloride are other common seeding agents. The seeding agent is presented in the desired region through pyrotechnic flares attached to aircraft, and it performs its job of catalyzing more collisions and groupings.
We are well aware that mindless human intervention is driving us towards an unavoidable climate crisis. However, “If human activities could change the climate, why not change it on purpose, to suit us better?” says one article released by the American Institute of Physics.
The first instance of cloud seeding can be traced back to 1946 when scientists at General Electric, America effectively seeded clouds with dry ice and witnessed the first-ever artificially induced snowfall. Presently, about 56 countries across the globe have cloud seeding programs working actively, including India.
In December 2021, China employed cloud seeding in its capital city Beijing to assure quiet and rainless weather on the day of the centenary celebration of its ruling party. Hydropower organizations incorporate this technique to acquire more snowfall in winter since it would facilitate more runoff during spring and that in turn aids in the production of hydroelectricity. Some wineries have begun using seeding agents to protect their vineyards from heavy hailstorms. Variations of cloud seeding have forever been used for storm and hurricane prevention.
Historically, we have more handy examples of climate modification by humans for greed and evil than for the betterment of the world. In Actor Suriya’s movie Kaappaan, we see geoscience used to initiate what is essentially a biowar. A locus attack is executed on crop fields to destroy the hard-earned yield of the farmers. The attacking party also cleverly makes sure the locusts do not increase their population and spread uncontrollably by selectively sending only male insects, thereby putting a cap on reproduction. From bug bombs to purposefully contaminating water or spiking food, our world’s history is a cesspit of countries trying to eliminate their enemies by slightly modifying the course of nature in warzones. To restrain further investment of human beings in warfare, Climatological modification in warfare has been banned by the UN.
However, how eco-conscious is the concept of climate modification, even if it uplifts and depollutes the environment? When posed with the question, Dr. Emmanuel DiLorenzo, Professor, and Director at Georgia Tech call climate modification an equivalent to taking a climate pill. He argues that a patient who has cholesterol has two options they could adopt: either changing their lifestyle healthier to prevent cholesterol or taking an anti-cholesterol pill to control their illness. They are more likely to take the pill, and so is humanity’s approach to climate change. Artificial weather modification counters the damaging effects of climate change without removing the root cause itself. But it might be too late for humanity to adopt an entirely new lifestyle, so artificial climate modification is a more viable option at present. Most scientists agree that climate modification is progressive and sound science, and will relieve us from the woes of climate change when used consciously.
- Weather Modification – Wikipedia
- What is seed clouding? – india.mongabay.com
- How One Country ‘Modified’ Its Weather to Create Artificial Rain and Lower Pollution – theswaddle.com
- Climate Modification: Good or Bad? – The Weather Channel
- Climate Modification Schemes – history.aip.org
- Brief history of insects in entomological warfare – entomologytoday.org