China has unveiled plans to expand an experimental weather modification program to an area of about 5.5 million square kilometers i.e. more than 1.5 times the total size of India.
According to a statement from the State Council, China will have a “developed weather modification system” by 2025, thanks to breakthroughs in fundamental research and key technologies, as well as improvements in “comprehensive prevention against safety risks.”
In the next five years, the total area covered by artificial rain or snowfall will reach 5.5 million sq km, while over 580,000 sq km will be covered by hail suppression technologies. The statement added that the program will help with disaster relief, agricultural production, emergency responses to forest and grassland fires, and dealing with unusually high temperatures or droughts.
China has long sought to control the weather to protect farming areas and to ensure clear skies for key events. In the 2008 Beijing Olympics to reduce smog and avoid rain ahead of the competition, it seeded clouds.
Key political meetings held in the Chinese capital are notorious for enjoying beautiful clear skies, thanks both to weather modification and the shutting down of nearby factories.
As a concept, cloud seeding has been around for decades. It works by injecting small amounts of silver iodide into clouds with a lot of moisture, which then condenses around the new particles, becoming heavier and eventually falling as precipitation.
A study funded by the US National Science Foundation, published earlier this year, found that “cloud seeding can boost snowfall across a wide area if the atmospheric conditions are favorable.” The study was one of the first to ascertain definitively that cloud seeding worked, as previously it had been difficult to distinguish precipitation created as a result of the practice from normal snowfall.
Some experts have speculated that success in weather modification could lead China to adopt more ambitious geoengineering projects, particularly as the country suffers from the effects of climate change.
Radical solutions such as seeding the atmosphere with reflective particles could theoretically help reduce temperatures, but could also have major unforeseen consequences, and many experts fear what could happen were a country to experiment with such techniques.