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UAE Research Program Studies Advanced AI Cloud Seeding Capabilities

After the last week of torrential rainfall and flash floods, areas of the United Arab Emirates recorded more than a year’s worth of rain in just 24 hours. This unprecedented climate event comes amid growing concerns over the impact climate change is having on the UAE, with global warming leading to more frequent extreme weather events.

The Emirates typically suffers from low rainfall rates driving fears of water scarcity due to the arid climate. In recent weeks, some temperatures in the region have surpassed 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit), further reducing quantities of groundwater because of higher rates of evaporation.

In light of these growing concerns, the UAE is looking toward new Artificial Intelligence (AI) research in cloud seeding to find a solution to tackle these problems.

The Middle East and North Africa is the world’s driest region, and includes 11 out of the world’s 17 most water-scarce countries. According to a 2022 UNICEF report, it is only going to get worse due to population growth, inadequate water management and ongoing conflicts in the region.

The UAE generally has little rain, no rivers and only a small amount of fresh groundwater available. It is predicted that all natural freshwater resources will be depleted in 50 years due to a combination of population growth, increased demand, and an extreme annual one-meter drop in the country’s water table.

Dr. Luca Delle Monache is leading a coalition of researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Colorado State University, and the University of Khalifa to develop AI algorithms to achieve advanced cloud seeding programs.

The UAE’s Research Program for Rain Enhancement Science (UAEREP) is working to develop techniques and strategies to improve precipitation from incoming clouds. One of the main techniques used in cloud seeding is the injection of small particles of silver iodine in the chosen clouds, allowing for the growth of small rain droplets within the cloud, leading to precipitation.

Delle Monache told The Media Line that during this three-year project his team expects to deliver a prototype of the AI-based predictive capabilities. This will allow weather centers to identify optimal cloud characteristics, timings and seeding locations to increase precipitation estimates for rain enhancement through the prototype AI-based system for precipitation nowcasting up to six hours.

The AI systems “will analyze the data quickly and succinctly,” merging data gathered from on-ground and in-air weather forecasting to blend multiple sources of vast data sets to provide quick answers, Delle Monache said.

Using AI algorithms to create significantly improved weather forecasts and therefore improved cloud seedings will lead to increased rainfall, a significant achievement for the water-scarce UAE.

In addition to cloud seeding, the UAE has sought to mitigate its drought conditions and increase its water supplies through thermal desalination, treated wastewater and dam-rainwater harvesting projects. Desalination provides the UAE with 42% of its water needs.

Gidon Bromberg, the Israel director of EcoPeace Middle East, told The Media Line that the Middle East is already the most water-scarce region in the world, and climate change is further pushing the overall quantity of water into significant decline.

Bromberg said this has been exacerbated by climate change, with the region predicted to experience an increase of 4 degrees in temperature in this century alone, compared to the 1.5-degree temperature increase predicted for other countries.

According to the UAE’s National Centre of Meteorology, the country has the fourth highest demand for fresh water in the world with an average use of 550 liters of water per person per day, placing severe pressure on already limited supplies of potable water. The UAEREP sees rain enhancement as offering a viable cost-effective supplement to existing water supplies using technological research to offer the potential of using rain enhancement as a supplement to existing sources of groundwater and desalinated water.

The United States also faces similar concerns over water scarcity and low rainfall levels. According to a US government-backed report, within as little as 50 years many regions of the United States could see their freshwater supply reduced by as much as a third.

Delle Monache sees the US as an area where AI-enhanced cloud seeding could be used. He told The Media Line that the goal is to create an algorithm that is flexible and can adapt to new regions. “If we want to use it over Southern California … there might be a few tweaks here and there in terms of the design of the algorithm but for the most part it will be able to work in other places of the world,” he said.

The UAE’s research into an advanced AI cloud seeding algorithm could help ease the burden caused by declining rates of rainfall, benefiting those at risk of water shortages both in the UAE and globally.

Isla-Rose Deans is a student at the University of Leeds and an intern in The Media Line’s Press and Policy Student Program.