Cloud seeding is a process which modifies weather patterns. When performed correctly, it can change the amount of precipitation that falls on a specific area. It can even change the type of precipitation that falls. For this process to work correctly, dry ice, potassium iodide, or silver iodide, is distributed into a network of cloud cover to encourage precipitation to form.
Although aircraft can be used to complete a cloud seeding procedure, there are ground distribution strategies that are easier and cheaper to use for long-term efforts.
The primary benefit of cloud seeding is that it creates the possibility of stabilizing precipitation levels around the world. Imagine being able to seed clouds in areas that are experiencing drought so they are able to receive more rainfall during their growing season. That is the potential this type of technology provides.
As for the primary disadvantage of cloud seeding, it has never been proven to work from a statistical standpoint. Cloud seeding efforts may be able to provide more precipitation or alter how it falls in specific circumstances, but there is no evidence available to suggest that this process is able to increase precipitation levels in a consistent manner.
Here are some more of the key points to think about when looking at the overall cloud seeding pros and cons.
List of the Pros of Cloud Seeding
1. It supports healthy growing seasons.
Assuming that cloud seeding becomes a reliable technology, it is a process that supports a healthy growing season for crops. Stable growing seasons can lessen the impacts of food insecurity around the world, reducing hunger even as human populations grow. The idea behind cloud seeding is to reduce drought-like conditions, but it will also reduce famine around the world as well.
2. It creates biomes with more fertility.
Imagine what would happen if just 20% of the Sahara Desert could become useable land? Or how fast a rainforest could recover when provided with adequate precipitation? Through cloud seeding processes, areas that are not used because they are so arid could become useable for farming or establishing homesteads. That means benefits to local economies, more access to agricultural products, and potentially higher wages.
3. It could regulate severe weather conditions.
One of the greatest threats to human life is severe weather. In the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season, Harvey, Irma, and Maria caused nearly $400 billion in damages and it was only one of two seasons that saw two Category 5 hurricanes make landfall. Hurricane Ophelia became the strongest easternmost storm to ever exist in the recorded era. Through cloud seeding procedures, it could be possible to regulate these weather conditions, control severe storms, and therefore reduce the amount of damage they cause. On the average year, more than 10,000 people around the world are killed because of weather-related events.
4. It would improve job access.
More agricultural opportunities would mean more job opportunities for those who are unemployed or under-employed. Although agricultural work globally does not always pay a competitive wage, market forces of supply and demand could change this process. When arid lands become hospitable and can be converted to croplands, jobs can be created too. That means skilled workers can demand higher wages, which leads to localized economic improvements.
5. It could balance population densities.
The current population density in the Sahara Desert is estimated to be just one person per square mile. In comparison, the nation of Singapore has a population density of 18,513 people per square mile. In Macau, the population density is 48,000 people per square mile. Through cloud seeding, more areas of the planet could become livable without great sacrifice and that could help to balance global population densities somewhat.
List of the Cons of Cloud Seeding
1. It may not be safe.
The chemicals that are used for cloud seeding are not currently listed as a health hazard, but the truth is that the effects of this process are not really known. Weather experiments involving cloud seeding since the 1940s have shown us that the benefits of cloud seeing with chemical processes may not be healthy. Toxic levels of silver iodide have been known to create skin rashes, weakness, and weight loss. When it is inhaled, it can permanently discolor the skin as well.
2. It could create negative weather effects.
Although cloud seeding could be used to positively alter weather patterns, there may be unintended consequences that occur as well. When one weather pattern changes, another typically changes as well. Arid conditions in one area of the planet might be eliminated, but by doing so, another region might begin experiencing drought-like conditions because the precipitation is encouraged to fall in a different location.
3. It can harm plant and marine life.
Under normal exposure conditions, silver does not pose a serious environmental threat. Free silver ions, however, are lethal to certain forms of plant and marine life. Ronald Eisler notes on a U.S. Geological Survey that toxicity levels in water and be as low as 1.2 ug/L. Significant effects can be seen at exposure levels as low as 0.17 ug/L. Cloud seeding would potentially cause water contamination with the materials used and that could change the makeup of life on our planet as we know it.
4. It is a costly process.
According to information provided by the Smithsonian, a cloud seeding program could cost up to $214 per acre-foot of water in a low-cost scenario. For a high-cost scenario, cloud seeding could be as much as $427 per acre-foot of water. Even then, with current technologies, the idea of being about to bust a drought is not considered possible. Over the course of 6 years of study, winter snows in Wyoming were evaluated and seeding may have increased snow levels by just 5%.
5. It could lead to other natural disasters.
If more water is falling from the sky, then it must go somewhere. That extra participation could trigger more flooding. It could provide more hail to fall, which would have the potential of damaging property or causing injury. Severe weather events could ruin crops, just as cloud seeding could encourage more crops to grow. Although the ideas behind cloud seeding are designed to solve problems, we might create more problems instead of less with this type of weather modification.
These cloud seeding pros and cons show us that this is an unreliable process at best, but that may change in the future. Solving problems like drought and famine are important, but we must also ensure that we don’t create more problems when trying to solve them. As we understand more about how to work with the weather, these pros and cons may shift as well.
How do you feel about the idea of cloud seeding to increase localized precipitation?