Indian scientists seed clouds in quest to bring on the monsoon rains

June 30, 2009

Drought, and the loss of even more crops, further pushing food shortages and unrest.  


Indian scientists are flying through storm clouds as part of a new plan to seed them with rain-inducing chemicals to try to control the timing of the annual monsoon, whose late arrival is causing havoc this year.

As Britain sweltered in temperatures of up to 32C (90F), the late monsoon means that India is suffering temperatures as high as 49C, which have caused severe crop damage, water and power shortages, and at least 100 deaths.

In Delhi some residents have been sleeping in their air-conditioned cars — with engines running — during power cuts of up to 12 hours a day. The government of the southern state of Andhra Pradesh has ordered all churches, mosques and Hindu temples to pray for rain.

·                     The crisis illustrates how vulnerable India remains to the elements, especially the monsoon, which dominates the lives of the estimated 740 million people living in the countryside.

The Government is now hoping to change that by funding a three-year experiment to work out how best to seed the monsoon clouds that sweep across the sub-continent between June and September.

The Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, based in the western city of Pune (Poona), launched the cloud aerosol interaction and precipitation enhancement experiment (Caipeex) on May 17. “I’m not saying the cloud-seeding is the only solution,” J. R. Kulkarni, the manager of the programme, told The Times. “But in several different parts of the globe it has now been attempted and found to be successful, so it will definitely help to ease the situation.”

Cloud seeding involves spraying clouds with chemicals such as dry ice, silver iodide and potassium or sodium chloride, which cause moisture particles to expand into rain drops and then fall to the ground.

In the first phase of the Indian experiment a light aircraft carrying three scientists and their equipment is flying through rain clouds daily for two to four hours, according to Professor Kulkarni.

“Yes, it’s a little bit dangerous,” he said. “Normally, people avoid the monsoon clouds — we go into them — but that’s a part of the research.” The equipment is measuring the temperature, speed, chemical composition and moisture and particle levels of the clouds from the inside, he said.

In the second phase, during the 2010 and 2011 monsoons, two aircraft will randomly seed clouds while rain gauges on the ground measure precipitation. In the third phase in 2011-12 scientists will analyse the data, compile computer models, and draw up guidelines on how to seed clouds.

India first started experimenting with cloud seeding in 1951 but has used the technology only sporadically, and has yet to draw up a national policy on its usage. China now has the world’s biggest cloud-seeding programme, followed by Russia and Israel, and at least 24 other countries are known to use the technology.

Critics say it is too expensive and risks upsetting the balance of nature and exacerbating fierce water disputes between neighbouring states. Proponents insist that it could ease an historic imbalance in rainfall that floods much of eastern India every year, while leaving northern states parched.


In India, frogs are married in Vedic or Hindu rituals that tradition says will please the rain god and bring the monsoon

Dances to summon rain are documented across the world and continue in the form of paparuda, a Romanian ritual still performed in some villages. A young girl leads a crowd, singing: “Come litle rain, come and make us wet”

The 1956 film The Rainmaker evokes the desperation of a dust-bowl community in the American West, praying for rain amid a drought. The film’s heroine falls in love with a conman, Starbuck, who captivates locals by promising to bring rain

Operation Popeye was a US operation that aimed to extend the monsoon season to slow traffic on the Ho Chi Minh Trail during the Vietnam War