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article imageChina needs more water — Using cutting-edge defence technology

By Karen Graham     Mar 29, 2018 in Technology
Beijing - China is testing cutting-edge defense technology to develop a powerful yet relatively low-cost weather modification system to bring substantially more rain to the Tibetan plateau, Asia’s biggest freshwater reserve.
China's rain-making system is being developed by the state-owned China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, a major space and defense contractor, reports the South China Morning Post.
The object is to increase rainfall amounts by up to 10 billion cubic meters (353 million cubic feet) a year - about 7.0 percent of China's water consumption.
The Himalayas form a white wall of ice and snow separating the north (Tibet  China) from the south (...
The Himalayas form a white wall of ice and snow separating the north (Tibet, China) from the south (Nepal, India)
Basically, tens of thousands of chambers will be built across a broad section of the Tibetan Plateau to produce rainfall over a huge area covering about 1.6 million square kilometers (620,000 square miles), an area about three times larger than Spain. It will be the largest such project ever attempted in the world today.
How the rain-making chambers will work
The chambers will stand on steep mountain ridges, facing toward the moist monsoons from South Asia. As the winds hit the mountains, an upward draft is created. The chambers themselves will burn solid fuel to produce silver iodide, a cloud-seeding agent with a crystalline structure much like ice. The upward drafts of wind will sweep the silver iodide crystals into the clouds, producing rain.
This image explaining cloud seeding shows the chemical either silver iodide or dry ice being dumped ...
This image explaining cloud seeding shows the chemical either silver iodide or dry ice being dumped onto the cloud, which then becomes a rain shower. The process shown in the upper-right is what is happening in the cloud and the process of condensation to the introduced chemicals.
Smcnab386 (talk) (Uploads)
“[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.
Scientists designed and constructed the chambers using cutting-edge military rocket engine technology. This allowed them to safely and efficiently burn the high-density solid fuel being used in the oxygen-scarce altitudes that are over 5,000 meters (16,400 feet).
Operation of the chambers will be guided by real-time data collected from a network of 30 small weather satellites that monitor monsoon activities over the Indian Ocean. Additionally, other cloud-seeding methods will be used in conjunction with the chambers, including planes, drones, and rockets.
"Other methods require the establishment of a no-fly zone. This can be time-consuming and troublesome in any country, especially China,” the researcher said.
Composite satellite image of the Himalayan range. The top of the picture is directed towards the nor...
Composite satellite image of the Himalayan range. The top of the picture is directed towards the north northwest. The Tibetan Plateau is near the centre and the Taklamakan plain is visible as the lighter area near the top.
Asia's Water Tower
Huge glaciers and underground reservoirs found on the Tibetan Plateau - often called Asia Water Tower - are the source of most of the continent's major rivers, including the Yellow, Yangtze, Mekong, Salween, and Brahmaputra.
The rivers flow through China, India, Nepal, Laos, Myanmar and several other countries, and are a lifeline to almost half the world's population. However, water shortages across the continent have turned the Tibetan Plateau into a hot issue as countries try to gain control over freshwater resources.
An interesting thing about the plateau is that even though large volumes of water-laden air currents pass over the plateau, it is one of the driest places on Earth. Most of this region receives less than 10 centimeters (3.9 inches) of precipitation a year. To put this in perspective, the US Geological Survey defines a desert as a region receiving less than 25 centimeters (9.8 inches) of precipitation a year.
Cloud-seeding is a form of weather modification
Cloud-seeding is a way to change the amount or type of precipitation that falls from clouds, by dispersing substances into the air that serve as cloud condensation or ice nuclei, which alter the microphysical processes within the cloud. It is considered a form of weather modification.
While cloud-seeding was suggested as a way to make rain back in 1891, leading to the theory that supercooled water droplets present while ice crystals are released into rain clouds would cause rain; it wasn't until 1946 when General Electric (GE)'s Vincent Schaefer and Irving Langmuir confirmed the theory while researching aircraft icing
However, China and other countries, including Russia and the U.S., have also been researching ways to trigger natural disasters to weaken an enemy in time of war. Actually, modifying weather has been used, and recently.
Nam Tso  Damxung County  Tibet
Nam Tso, Damxung County, Tibet
From March 1967 until July 1972, the US military's Operation Popeye cloud-seeded silver iodide to extend the monsoon season over North Vietnam, specifically the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The operation resulted in the targeted areas seeing an extension of the monsoon period an average of 30 to 45 days. The 54th Weather Reconnaissance Squadron carried out the operation to "make mud, not war."
The usual chemicals used to seed clouds are silver iodide, potassium iodide and dry ice (solid carbon dioxide). Liquid propane, which expands into a gas, has also been used. Even table salt is now showing promise as a cloud-seeded.
Chinese scientists working on the chambers have found them to be far less costly than drones or other methods in use today. Right now, each burning unit costs about 50,000 yuan (US$8,000) to build and install and the price is expected to drop as mass-production picks up. So far, the only down-side to the chambers is that they need wind to function.
The aerospace corporation’s president, Lei Fanpei, said in a speech that China’s space industry would integrate its weather modification programme with Tsinghua’s Sky River project.
Chinese residents look at a flooded area caused by heavy rain in Beijing
Chinese residents look at a flooded area caused by heavy rain in Beijing
, AFP/File
“[Modifying the weather in Tibet] is a critical innovation to solve China’s water shortage problem,” Lei said. “It will make an important contribution not only to China’s development and world prosperity, but also the well being of the entire human race.”
And, there are skeptics - like Ma Weiqiang, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research. He worries about the scale of the project, something that is unprecedented but could answer many intriguing scientific questions.
However, Ma is also skeptical that in such large numbers, the chambers may not work like they are expected to work in real-life. I am skeptical about the amount of rainfall they can produce. A weather system can be huge. It can make all human efforts look vain,” Ma said.
There is a lot more to the cloud-seeding story and as Ma says, Beijing might not give the green-light to it for fear seeding for rain in one region could cause less rainfall in other regions of the country.
More about China, rainmaking, weather modification, defence technology, Water
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