These Governments Want to Fight Air Pollution by Controlling the Weather

Air pollution is taking over cities around the world. As the State of the Air report released Wednesday reminds us, nearly half of the people living in the U.S. deal with unhealthy air. In countries like South Korea and Thailand, however, that air pollution is on a whole other level.

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That’s why these governments are turning to weather modification technologies in a bid to clean up the air. South Korea announced in March plans to begin deploying so-called cloud seeding technology to make it rain in Seoul, and the Thailand government actually went ahead and induced rain in Bangkok in January. But, um, how well does this actually work?

Cloud seeding, which basically involves misting clouds with small particles that help water droplets to form, isn’t exactly revolutionary. The idea has been around since the 1940s when Bernard Vonnegut, an atmospheric scientist, discovered that silver iodide particles could be used to form snow from water vapor in a lab. Since then, cloud seeding has been used to clear the skies for the Beijing Olympics in 2016 and to help mountaintops grow snowy in Colorado. But not every attempt to seed clouds is so successful.

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“Cloud seeding presently is suffering from a lack of credibility not because it is not a credible thing to do, but because it is a hard thing to do correctly and should be done with rigorous science,” said Daniel Rosenfeld, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Institute of Earth Sciences, to Earther.

Shooting clouds with an element like silver iodide can’t always produce rain, and the rain won’t always occur exactly how researchers would’ve liked. The conditions that exacerbate the air pollution in Southeast Asian countries—dry, cool air—don’t help when it comes to making clouds. So cloud seeding is often even more difficult to do successfully during these pollution events.

“The conditions when you need to clear the air pollution most are the least suitable for cloud seeding,” Rosenfeld said.

And while cloud seeding can be a quick fix when poor air quality is putting life on pause, no amount of rain can stop the pollution at the source.

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“It’s a very good idea to address the air pollution by reducing the emissions by moving to renewable energy, electrical cars,” Rosenfeld told Earther. “That will solve not only the air pollution problem but the global warming problem.”

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

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DISCUSSION

dnapl
Dense non aqueous phase liquid

Sometimes the best way to address dispersed pollution in the environment (within the land, water and air) is by eliminating the source from which that pollution emanates. Kinda like the old dumb joke:

Patient: Hey doc, my arm hurts when I do this.

Doctor: Then stop doing that.

Granted, the source of pollution might be across the border. But thank god we have an entire ocean between us and China. Then again, by the magic of advection, convection and diffusion, we’re still somehow breathing in China’s pollution.

In all seriousness, Asia needs to form some sort of regional environmental protection alliance between countries. It’s why the US has a federal EPA. If pollution control was left up to each state, we’d have shithole states doing all the dirty industries’ work, lots and lots lawsuits between states, and really really dirty air, water, and land (groundwater contaminants migrate across state lines, too). It’s amazing after almost 50 years our anti federal government friends don’t get that.