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Last updated on April 16, 2014 at 6:17 EDT

India Experiments With Cloud Seeding

June 30, 2009

Fearing the late arrival of the annual monsoon, scientists in India are flying through storm clouds seeding them with weather modification chemicals in hopes of artificially creating rain.

The monsoon’s late arrival has left the ground parched and crops damaged as water shortages sweep through the cities. At least 100 people have been reported dead as a result of the disastrous heat wave reaching temperatures as high as 113F.

In Delhi some residents have resorted to sleeping in their air-conditioned cars during power cuts that can last up to 12 hours a day.  The government of the southern state of Andhra Pradesh has even ordered all religious institutions to pray for rain. 

The water shortage crisis exposes the vulnerability of the region that is so dependant on the monsoon, which governs the lives of about 740 million people living in the countryside.

The Indian government has utilized the American method of cloud seeding technology before, but now it is working to develop its own techniques to ensure that monsoon clouds will yield torrential rains. It will be funding a three-year experiment to find the best way to seed the monsoon clouds that appear across the sub-continent between June and September.

On May 17, The Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, based in the western city of Pune (Poona), introduced the cloud aerosol interaction and precipitation enhancement experiment (Caipeex). “I’m not saying the cloud-seeding is the only solution,” J. R. Kulkarni, the manager of the program, 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 chemicals into the air such as dry ice, silver iodide and potassium or sodium chloride, which causes moisture particles to expand, forming drops of rain that fall to the ground.

In the first part of the experiment, three scientists took a dangerous trip in a light aircraft through the rain clouds with their equipment every day 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.”  He explained that the equipment is used to measure the temperature, speed, chemical composition and moisture and particle levels of the clouds from the inside.

In the second part of the experiment, during the 2010 and 2011 monsoons, they plan to use two aircrafts to seed the clouds at random while rain gauges on the ground measure the precipitation.

Then, the final stage of the process will take place in 2011 through 2012 when scientists will do the tedious work of analyzing data, compiling computer models and drawing up guidelines on how to seed clouds.

India’s cloud seeding experimentation started in 1951, but the technology has only been used sporadically. They have yet to succeed in drawing up a national policy for how and when it should be used. The largest cloud seeding program is in China, followed by Russia and Israel, and at least 24 other countries are known to use the technology.

Many critics argue that the endeavor is too expensive and that there are too many risks involved in compromising the balance of nature and conjuring the tempestuous monsoon waters, which is causing many disputes between neighboring states. Those supporting the method insist that it has the potential to create balance in rainfalls that flood much of eastern India every year, while the northern areas are parched.

India has a variety of traditions and rituals that are believed to bring rain. For example, in Vedic and Hindu rituals, frogs are married to supposedly please the rain god and conjure the monsoon. Rain summoning dances are also documented across the globe and are still used in the Romanian ritual of paparuda still performed in some villages.

In the ritual, a girl wearing a skirt made of knitted vines and small branches, sings and dances through the streets of the village, stopping at every house, where the hosts pour water on her. The people of the village follow her dancing and shouting.

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