The ambitious project with which China wants to control the climate in a region as big as Alaska

The ambitious project with which China wants to control the climate in a region as big as Alaska

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China carries out a large-scale project in which it wants to cause rainfall in one of the country’s main water reserves.

It is the largest artificial rain system ever designed. And China has created it to face the drought in one of its most important water sources.

The Chinese Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation is installing special combustion chambers to help increase rain in the part of the Tibetan plateau under Chinese sovereignty.

This has never been done before in such a large area: it is an area the size of Alaska (in the United States), of more than one million square kilometers.

In this region of the Himalayas is where three great rivers are born: the Yangtze, the Mekong and the Yellow River. Its water comes mainly from the melting snow of the mountains and the precipitations that are created in its slopes, but the threat of drought makes the country needs to increase its flow.

And he wants to do it by planting clouds .

Landscape of the Tibetan plateau.
Copyright of the GETTY IMAGES image
Image caption The Tibetan plateau in the Chinese part is one of the largest water reserves in the country.

A river in the sky

The project has been called Tianhe (translated as “the river of heaven”) and consists of installing dozens of meteorological stations that disseminate particles of silver iodide (or potassium iodide) in the atmosphere aided by the action of the wind.

The result of the contact of these particles with the air is a crystalline structure of condensed water, similar to that of ice, which helps create clouds that promote rain.

According to the researchers that are part of the project, rainfall could increase in the region by 10,000 million cubic meters per year, which represents 7% of the total water consumption by the population of the country.

Cannons that shoot silver iodide.
Copyright of the AFP image
Image caption On other occasions, the Chinese government has used cannons that fired the particles of potassium iodide into the air and also airplanes.

Strategic place

The site chosen to carry out this project is very important for the region because it supplies water to almost half of the world’s population.

The Tibetan plateau is popularly known as the water tower of Asia. Its glaciers provide water to the major rivers of the Asian continent that later irrigate the soils of countries such as China, India, Nepal, Laos and Myanmar, among others.

China has already used this technique on other occasions to deal with droughts, fires and even to favor a good climate during important events (as in the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008), but never before on a large scale and almost always with the help of airplanes that loosen the particles of potassium iodide in the heights.

Now he has designed a much less expensive and innovative method . These are combustion chambers specially designed by scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and installed on the steep ridges of the Tibetan mountains.

At this point of the Tibetan plateau, the monsoon wind from South Asia penetrates the chambers creating a current that allows the particles of silver iodide to rise.

The great challenge of this project was to see if the combustion of iodide would work in such a high area provided with little oxygen. At the moment the tests have been satisfactory and a single camera can create a cloud of up to 5 kilometers .

Hillside of a mountain in Chinese Tibet with a combustion chamber.
Copyrights of the CHINA GOVERNMENT METEOROLOGICAL ADMINISTRATION Image
Image caption An image provided by the Chinese meteorological agency showing the installation of one of these combustion chambers.

The problem with artificial rain is that it can not control the amount of water it will create or the exact place where it will do it. In addition, these specially designed cameras will only work when there is wind to blow silver iodide.

“I have some skepticism about the amount of rain that can be produced, the weather system is huge and can make human efforts in vain,” said Ma Weiqiang, a researcher on the project for the South China Morning Post .

Groups in defense of the environment have also expressed their concern about the massive use of silver iodide to cause precipitation that may impregnate the atmosphere and the soil with polluting substances.

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