Jordan resorts to cloud seeding tech for water

cloud ionisation
Copyright: WeatherTec

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  • Environment-friendly technology set to narrow the gap between water demand and availability
  • Experiments in six-month pilot increase rainfall, and government decides to extend the project
  • Questions remain on the consistency of results and impact on neighboring countries

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[Amman] The promising results of a cloud seeding experiment using ionization technology have persuaded the Jordanian government to extend its use of the technology as figures showed improved rainfall.

Jordan suffers from severe water shortages due to a decline in its renewable water resources and the widening gap between water demand and availability, especially after the large influx of refugees in recent years. It has become second among the world’s most water-poor countries.

The technology has performed well in a six-month pilot that began in May 2016, under an agreement between WeatherTec Services GmbH and the Jordanian government that was signed in March, according to the company's CEO Helmut Fluhrer.

“The technology was used in most days of December, doubling rainfall levels in 17 days of the month.”

Ismat Sawaqed, a Jordanian member of WeatherTec

“The government steering committee of the project decided to extend its operation to March 2017, after becoming satisfied with the initial results,” Fluhrer says.

Ismat Sawaqed, a Jordanian member of WeatherTec, cited signs of the experiment’s success from the 2016 report on Jordan’s rainy season, which was issued last December.

“The report shows promising figures. In the North, the performance of the rainy season reached 150 per cent [against the average for the season], while it reached 145 per cent in the Central Western regions and 167 per cent in the Central Eastern regions,” Sawaqed tells SciDev.Net.

"The technology was used in most days of December, doubling rainfall levels in 17 days of the month,” Sawaqed adds.

The technology used by WeatherTec in Jordan has also had good results in Australia and the United Arab Emirates, according to Fluhrer, "and the results showed an improvement in the amounts of rainfall in the targeted areas of these countries".

The technology does not create rain out of nowhere, according to Riad Mubarak, a member of the scientific research group of WeatherTec. It “requires certain conditions such as percentage humidity levels, wind speed and direction, as well as specific conditions related to atmospheric pressure values.”

For example, when humidity reaches 33 per cent the technical emitters are switched on, sending a massive number of negative ions — estimated in the trillions — to the higher layers of the atmosphere to form a ‛rain cell’.

Ionized particles are a hundred times more electrically attracted to water vapour than none-ionized particles. They enhance the process that forms vapour clusters which, through a chain-reaction condensation process, grow into larger clusters that eventually become raindrops. The introduction of ionized particles helps the entire process along and produces more rain that would be the case otherwise.

The ions are emitted by corona wires (wires with a current running through them) charged to a high voltage which are placed at the top of ionization towers, while electricity is generated from solar panels, Fluhrer explains to SciDev.Net.

Atmospheric particles become ionized through this process and get transported  into the part of the atmosphere where cloud formation can occur.

The technology mimics sun ionization and uses no chemicals. Sawaqed believes that being environmentally friendly at all stages is its most important characteristic.

Ionization towers have been constructed at four sites in Jordan’s north-western highlands. They are managed from a sophisticated control and monitoring room in Amman.

The sites were selected “because the west wind, which crosses the west of the Kingdom coming from the Mediterranean Sea, has the ability to carry the ions to cover the largest possible area, which assists the geographical expansion of rain cells to reach nearly 160 km2,” Mubarak tells SciDev.Net. “Accordingly, the influence of the technology extends to the beginning of the Eastern Desert in the Mafraq city, 80 kilometers north-east of the Jordanian capital”.

Ibrahim Al-Aroud, professor of physical geography, natural climate, hydrology and water resources at the University of Mutah in Jordan, believes that “ionization technology is still an emerging technology which lacks any solid results to evaluate it in a scientific manner, or even to know its impact on rainfall proportions in neighbouring countries.”

However, Fluhrer rules out any impact on neighbouring countries, as the technology “depends on the west wind coming from the Mediterranean Sea, and therefore affects Jordan directly.”

Sawaqed added that WeatherTec uses this technology only to increase precipitation in Jordan by approximately 20 per cent, which is set to be evaluated after the end of the rainy season in Jordan in the first quarter of 2017.
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Middle East & North Africa desk.