The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is about to make it rain – literally. A notoriously hot and dry country (one that, thanks to climate change, is set to become increasingly and dangerously hotter in the next few decades), water is arguably the most precious resource, and there tends to be very little of it.
As they tend to, they’ve decided to change this problem by thinking of a solution on a huge scale. As reported by Arabian Business, there are whispers coming from the desert nation that they are going to build an artificial mountain so high that it will affect regional weather enough to increase rainfall.
Winds naturally carry water-loaded air over the land. When it encounters a mountain, it rises, and it cools as it does so. Cooler air isn’t able to carry as much water as warmer air, so when this happens, it tends to rain. The UAE hopes that their artificial mountain will provide them with a new source of rainwater via this exact mechanism.
Experts from the U.S.-based University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) are currently working on a study that will use computer modelling to determine the exact proportions of the man-made mountain. Constructing an artificial mountain, of course, is far from simple; in fact, it’s unprecedented. As UCAR weather modification researcher Roelof Bruintjes told Arabian Business: “Building a mountain isn’t a simple thing.”
Various nations have tried different methods to increase rainfall, or otherwise disperse clouds. China, for example, “seeds” clouds by launching chemical-filled rockets at them. These chemicals initiate the formation of ice crystals, which ultimately causes the clouds to burst apart and fall as rain. They manage to produce 50 billion tonnes (55 billion tons) of rain every single year this way, providing their vast fields of crops with enough vital water.
UCAR have been involved in a similar weather-modification project in Wyoming over the last few years, but their endeavor in the Middle East is a decidedly novel initiative. Details on the construction material are yet to emerge, but they will certainly need a lot.
Mount Kilimanjaro, a type of symmetrical stratovolcano. Eduard Kyslynskyy/Shutterstock
Take Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania as an example; no-one has ever weighed it, of course, but it can be approximated. At a height of 5,895 meters (19,341 feet) and with a basal diameter of roughly 40 kilometers (24.9 miles), this dormant volcano is fairly symmetric, so it can be treated as a cone. Its volume, then, is approximately 2,469 cubic kilometers (592 cubic miles).
It’s mostly made of a rock called phonolite, which we know the density of. Assuming it’s all made of this rock, this means that the entire mountain has a mass of 6.2 quadrillion tonnes (6.8 quadrillion tons). If UCAR and the UAE want to build a mountain comparable to Kilimanjaro, they are going to need a heck of a lot of material, then.
“If [the project] is too expensive for [the government], logically the project won’t go through, but this gives them an idea of what kind of alternatives there are for the long-term future,” Bruintjes said. “If it goes through, the second phase would be to go to an engineering company and decide whether it is possible or not.”