What do you do if you have a) a ton of money, and b) a really, really dry country? If you’re the United Arab Emirates, the answer is that you build a mountain to bring rain.
The UAE spent $558,000 on cloud-seeding last year, according to Arabian Business. Cloud-seeding involves first finding clouds with weather radar, and then sprinkling them with fine particles to cause precipitation.
It works, but it's not particularly predictable. And before you can seed a cloud, you need to find one. Or make one. That is why the UAE is considering a new mountain to create clouds that could then be seeded for rain. Currently the country is in consultation to see if the project would even be feasible.
"What we are looking at is basically evaluating the effects on weather through the type of mountain, how high it should be and how the slopes should be," U.S.-based National Center for Atmospheric Research researcher Roelof Bruintjes told Arabian Business.
Mountains kick up the incoming air, forcing it to rise, and causing clouds to form. The hope is that a properly designed mountain could create enough clouds to reduce the UAE’s reliance on desalination. Desalinating seawater costs the country $60 for one cubic meter (around 260 gallons), whereas the same amount gotten by cloud seeding costs just $1.
Of course, mountains aren’t easy to build, and there isn’t much existing work to draw from to ensure such an expensive project would actually work. And even if it’s successful, those clouds will come from water that would have ended up elsewhere, possibly disrupting rainfall in other places.
Building a mountain is also expensive, even for a country as rich as the UAE, and those costs would inflate the price of the cloud-seeding program.
"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.
Then again, once the mountain is built, it’s done, and the benefits can be enjoyed without further cost. At least until climate change—caused in large part by the oil that made the UAE so rich—changes the weather patterns and ruins and whole scheme.