South Korea Wants to Use Artificial Rain to Wash Away Its Smog

You can see how bad smog gets in Seoul, South Korea. This was in January.
You can see how bad smog gets in Seoul, South Korea. This was in January.
Photo: AP

South Korea’s capital city is the latest place in Southeast Asia that’s planning to artificially create rain in response to severe air pollution.

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Seoul’s levels of particulate matter, a dangerous pollutant that can embed itself in a person’s lungs and cause permanent damage, have been above the health standard of 35 micrograms per cubic meter the last few days, according to the country’s air quality monitoring system, AirKorea.

In fact, the particulate matter levels shot up to nearly 200 micrograms per cubic meter Wednesday. By Friday, the air quality had improved to barely meet the health standard, but South Korean President Moon Jae-in announced Wednesday he is moving forward with a plan to create artificial rain because the country’s pollution has been worsening over the years, reports AlJazeera.

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The president is hoping to collaborate with China on this project because much of this smog comes from Chinese sources that send pollutants east to South Korea. However, local air pollution from old coal plants also contribute. AccuWeather reports the artificial rain will drop over the Yellow Sea, which sits between the two countries.

It’s not clear when exactly the governments will seed the clouds to produce the rain, but Korean officials are rushing the closure of coal plants in the meantime. The city of Seoul has been in a state of emergency with vehicle limitations in place, per AlJazeera.

Sigh, air pollution was so bad that Seoul residents wore face masks in January to help protect themselves.
Sigh, air pollution was so bad that Seoul residents wore face masks in January to help protect themselves.
Photo: ap

All this sounds pretty familiar: Bangkok, Thailand, used artificial rain in January to deal with its own air pollution issues. The so-called solution didn’t appear to work by a week later when schools shut down due to poor air quality. The process involves seeding the atmosphere with particles to promote the formation of clouds. It should helps disperse pollution when the clouds rain out, but the efficacy of the process remains unclear.

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What is clear is this region of the world deals with air pollution woes all too often. An analysis from the Air Quality Life Index released Wednesday found that Thailand’s air pollution is cutting lives by more than two years. In India, where smog caused people to fatally crash their cars in 2017, air pollution imposes $35 billion in economic losses, a study out Monday found.

The situation is pretty awful, but at least officials are finally beginning to address the impacts all this pollution is having. Maybe artificial rain will help Seoul out temporarily, but let’s hope it also invests in some long-term fixes.

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Yessenia Funes is climate editor at Atmos Magazine. She loves Earther forever.

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DISCUSSION

dnapl
Dense non aqueous phase liquid

Best to tackle this problem at the source, i.e the stack.

Denver back in the day had a horrible “brown cloud” caused by particulate matter borne from many sources including fire places, diesel trucks, and power plants. Source emissions were studied to identify culprits. Mitigation measures in addition to curbing emissions were looked into including artificial precipitation.

Rain particles demonstrated to be way less effective than snow, given fluid dynamics. Essentially the particulate matter of concern would “flow” around a falling droplet of rain. Snowflakes on the other hand demonstrated to trap particulate matter. This was evident even to a casual observer. Or at least a casual observe who would hike up Mount Zion in Golden just west of Denver on a sunny day after a snowstorm. “Hey look, the brown cloud is gone.” A day later it would be back.

Developing solutions to curbing emissions in addition to banning wood burning fireplaces was job creating.