by Ole A. Seifert
To many people, weather modification or geoengineering sounds like pure science fiction. It is not. Rather, it is a very real phenomenon and more relevant now than ever. After the recent climate summit November 2013, Warszaw, and the last IPCC report, weather modification or geoengineering has reached the public debate far more than ever before. Weather modification is a deliberate manipulation of the planetary environment on a large scale. It is massively contested, its purpose numerously questioned. Could this be a strategy to combat climate change? Some researchers zeal this strongly, while others are extremely skeptical of the consequences. Can the weather really be fixed for sustainable development purposes or could it have dramatic long-term consequences ultimately undoing purported just causes?
The term geoengineering is known from 1976 (Marchetti), but did not come into common use until the 1990s. While nowadays, geoengineering can be studied at universities around the world, it has a long history. Sometime in the 1940s Irving Langmuir, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, 1932, discovered that dry ice dropped from a great heights, like from airplanes, into under-cooled clouds, quickly became snowflakes and eventually water when it hit the ground. In 1946, Langmuir and an atmospheric scientist Bernard Vonnegut (brother of the author Kurt) discovered silver iodide corresponding rainmaking properties. This was the beginning of cloud seedings that brought rain to the ground.
Another famous atmospheric scientist is Paul Crutzen from the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry and Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, 1995. Thanks to him there was more awareness of the danger of holes in the ozone layer. He also developed theories that spraying sulfur into the atmosphere slows down global warming. In 2006 Crutzen estimated that geoengineering with sulfur, a would cost an estimated $ 50 billion annually, or about 5 percent of the world’s annual defense budgets.
Although it is most common to modify the clouds and the atmosphere earth shield in space and manipulation of the oceans are also increasingly discussed and researched. Other ideas that crop up from these is to brighten the colors on crops and even buildings and cities. Some scientists have even made plans for enormously high artificial trees to suck up carbon dioxide.
International meetings on weather modification take place fairly regularly. This summer there will be several conferences. Among others in Durham, UK ( ICITG, 21 – 22 July 2014) and in Berlin (climate engineering-conference, June 3-4). In Vienna, Austria they just held a European Geoscience Union General Assembly April 27 – May 2 . UN holds its own expert meetings, including those for geoengineering, weather modification. The last was in Lima, Peru in 2011, where the 2014 climate conference is to take place. The Russians and the Chinese have mostly dominated geoengineering research since the 50s, especially with respect to increase or limit the precipitation. But experts from other countries like the former climate change denier-guru Bjorn Lomborg — taken in serious cheating in his book, Cool It (which resulted in the book The Lomborg Deception by media critic Howard Friel) — have now jumped on the geoengineering wave, partly also recognizing the potential to make money in this domain, research-wise . American business magnate and philanthropist Bill Gates has also invested massively into geoengineering and its research as well. Indeed, weather modification has now become big business.
China in the lead
China is considered the leader in weather modification and artificial rain making, followed by, among others United States, Russia and Thailand. Thailand has its Royal Rainmaking Project which was founded in 1955 by the king and experiments conducted since 1969. The Chinese boasted loudly that they could control the weather during the opening ceremony during the Beijing Olympics. This was more than an open secret as it was on the front page of their websites and widely discussed on the web. 1104 rockets were fired and about 150 aircraft used to chase away the clouds that actually surrounded the stadium early in the morning. This was probably inspired by the Moscow Olympics in 1980, where the Soviet Union used its superior cloud seeding technology to ensure sunshine and clear skies for the event. China has nearly 53,000 employees in approximately 3,000 branches to check and control the weather, mainly to prevent drought in northern areas. Silver iodide and liquid nitrogen (dry ice) is most common to use for this.
USA, weather modification and warfare
Militarily research on weather manipulating in the US dates back to 1945 when the mathematician John von Neumann, perhaps inspired by the great battles and the atomic bomb, gathered other researchers at Princeton where they agreed to allow control of the weather, which could be of great benefit in an eventually next war. During the Vietnam War, the US used geoengineering, sprayed from aircrafts, to prevent labeled Vietnam enemy groups from advancing. This was called Operation Popeye, so public that there was a Senate hearing about it in 1974. No big secret at all. The Operation however resulted in a UN resolution against what was termed “climatological warfare”. The issue came to be discussed at an international convention against hostile “environmental modification techniques” later in 1976. On both sides of the Iron Curtain at that time, geoengineering for war purposes became central to military research. Exactly what and how much came out of this research, is not fully known.
From studies with accompanying research, the military expression “climateological warfare” appeared. Previously mentioned Langmuir began to cooperate with the military. After many attempts with accompanying controversies and lawsuits from those who felt deprived of rain, the U.S. formed the President’s Advisory Committee on Weather Control in 1953. In 1958 it allocated funds from the U.S. Congress for expanded research on rain making. More than $ 20 million a year was allocated to research on geoengineering in the early 70’s. In 1955, von Neumann, a well known mathematician (professor), physicist a.m. and participant in the Manhattan Project leading to the atomic bomb, used strong words about the weather used as weapons in a future war in Fortune magazine. Not only could it change the climate locally, but also melt the ice and have a global effect. It could be a stronger and more dangerous weapon than the atomic bomb, he predicted and urged humanity to intervene world problems with new eyes. In 1977, nuclear experts and Star Wars implicated Edward Teller wrote in the Wall Street Journal that it would only cost $ 1 billion a year to have a sunshade in space to slow global warming.
It is assumed that the same kind of research happened in the Soviet Union, although this was initially less open. More grandiose projects were planned, including to open the Behring Strait and to make Siberia hotter. Several projects, especially in the 60 – and 70’s, were about warming up local areas. One of the methods suggested was to covering large parts of the Arctic ice with soot. Both within the Soviet Union and from the West, this was met with critical eyes and resistance.
300 ongoing geoengineering projects
In 1999, 24 countries reported about more than 100 ongoing geoengineering projects, compiled and published by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), a specialized agency of the UN. These figures have since been upgraded to around 300 projects. The Guardian has published a map (17 July 2012) of ongoing projects, drawn from http://www.etcgroup.org/content/world-geoengineering. «ETC Group publishes a world map of geoengineering — the large-scale manipulation of earth or climate systems. While there is no complete record of the scores of weather and climate control projects in dozens of countries, this map is the first attempt to document the expanding scope of research and experimentation. Almost 300 geoengineering projects/experiments are represented on the map belonging to 10 different types of climate-altering technologies.»
Sulfur, silver iodide and dry ice have already been mentioned. Other substances that can be used are salt, urea, ammonium nitrate, potassium or sodium chloride, compressed liquid propane and carbon dioxide.
If you have enough land to control, you can order weather changes through professional corporations such as Weather Modification Incorporated. This takes place both from the ground, as well as from the air. Or you can try Swiss Meteo Systems, the U.S North American Weather Consultants, Inc. or Israeli Mekorot which are also major players. This has been going on for years . Both India and Australia have been doing cloud seeding since 1951 and Israel seeds clouds regularly every year between November and April. In the US it is used in several states and some of these have regulations on how and when to conduct weather modifications.
Research has been done for quite a while to prevent hurricanes by different cloud seedings techniques. The danger, which also researchers are aware of, is that it can eventually interfere with precipitation in other areas. There is talk of limiting hurricanes in the North Atlantic and the Indian and Southwest Pacific, but the danger is that it will reduce rainfall in the Amazon and other areas significantly. This is a highly relevant issue, since researchers also believe that “natural” aerosols; tiny, fine dust particles from coal power plants and cars in Asia and mainly China, may contribute to increased frequency of cyclones, increased rainfall and more hot air in the middle of the Pacific Ocean on the way to the North Pole. This is recently published research results, based on computer models conducted by the National Academic of Sciences, USA, April 2014.
The World Meteorological Organization also lend their support to the “uncertain consequences” debate. On their website they state that:
Current discussions that suggest geoengineering as an option to support climate mitigation efforts remain rather abstract and lack comprehensive risk assessments that take into account possible adverse impacts over short and longer time frames. Major uncertainties exist regarding the effects of these techniques on the physical climate system and on biogeochemical cycles, their possible impacts on human and natural systems, and their effectiveness and costs. Unilateral action may have environmental side effects on other countries and regions, and may not appropriately address the global scale of the issue.
A failed geoengineering project in Beijing China is believed to have caused chaos and snow storms in November 2011 in Beijing and northern areas of China, where at least eight people were killed. In October the same year,more than 16 million tons of snow fell over Beijing, after 186 rockets with silver iodide units were fired into the sky . Official figures claim that this method was responsible for artificially producing 250 billion tons of rain between 1999 and 2006. Similarly in the US- modification haphazard occur. In 1972, a US. government rain making operation went very wrong. This happened in South Dakota and resulted in a catastrophic flood and 256 deaths, which came under attack by a class action lawsuit against the government.
The British notable experience was when RAF (Royal Air Force) was conducting rainmaking experiences from 1949 to 1955. On August 15, 1952 Britain had the worst flash flood ever recorded. 35 people died after the sky released 90m tons of rain, which also released tons of rocks from the hilly Exmoor, Devon, district of Lynmouth. The disaster was named “the hand of God” though previously classified government documents indicated that a team of international scientist were collaborating with the RAF to make artificial rain the same week in the south of Britain.
The Canadian also have a bad weather modification story. There was a huge controversy with the dumping of iron sulphate in the Pacific Ocean off shore Canada in 2012, which is strictly an idea from the 1990s. It still seems like it is up in the sky where geoengineering is most likely to continue.
In all cases, the methods used may be the most researched of the geoengineering techniques but many questions remain. For instance, questions about the effect of silver iodide and other substances finally hitting the ground are raised among scientist and others, even in China. Although the questions are discussed and some assumptions debunked, there is still room for more substantive research findings and conclusions. The big question though is whether governments and commercial companies care about these research questions at all? Or are they hidden by purpose?
Many questions, few answers
The renowned Russian scientist Mikhail Bodyko claimed in 1974 that any looming global warming could be averted with only a few flights a day that emit sulfur. Critics of such initiatives have been great, also from the scientific community. What if war or other contingencies suddenly that will prevent from carrying out such actions appear? Will the climate then change dramatically and global atmospheric temperatures rise and sky rocket overnight?
Other questions to ask is what the effect of sulfur, silver iodide and other substances will have on the living environment. What health consequences may this cause in humans? Can it impair crops and other living organisms? These questions are many and answers are few.
☮☮☮☮☮☮☮☮☮☮☮☮☮☮☮☮☮☮☮☮☮☮☮☮☮☮☮☮☮☮☮☮☮☮☮☮☮The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations, providing scientific voice on the state and behaviour of the Earth’s atmosphere and climate. A Norwegian version of this was published in the weekly paper Ny Tid (New/Modern Times) September 5, 2014. Useful links:
World’s biggest geoengineering experiment ‘violates’ UN rules, October 2012, http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/oct/15/pacific-iron-fertilisation-geoengineering
US geoengineers to spray sun-reflecting chemicals from balloon, July 2012, http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/jul/17/us-geoengineers-spray-sun-balloon
Big names behind US push for geoengineering, October 2011, http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/blog/2011/oct/06/us-push-geoengineering
Geo-engineering is no solution to climate change, September 2008, http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/sep/01/climatechange.scienceofclimatechange1
IPCC asks scientists to assess geo-engineering climate solutions, June 2011, http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/jun/15/ipcc-geo-engineering-climate China:
China’s ‘weather modification’ works like magic, October 2009, http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/geoengineering
China’s largest cloud seeding assault aims to stop rain on the national parade, September 23, 2009, http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/sep/23/china-cloud-seeding
China takes battle to the heavens in search of the sun, August 2008, http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/2008/aug/08/olympics20081
Largest cloud seeding effort to prevent rainfall on parade, China View, October 2009, http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2009-10/01/content_12139802.htm
Cities fall out over cloud, July 2004, http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2004/jul/15/china.weather
Snøkaos tar liv i Kina, yr.no, http://www.yr.no/nyheter/1.6862896
Skal stoppe regnet, http://www.yr.no/nyheter/1.6114176
Weather is manipulated again for snow, China Daily, November 2009, http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2009-11/11/content_8946435.htm
Klimaskeptikernes hevn? 2010,
Artificial rain to tackle water crisis, The Goan, November 11, 2012, http://www.thegoan.net/story.php?id=277
How to Cool a Planet (Maybe), 2006,
Cloud Seeding Seen as Blessed Solution for Israel’s Dry Winter, 2009,
Cloud Control Could Tame Hurricanes, Study Shows, August 2012,
UN Expert Meeting, Lima, Peru 2011,
Weather modification, Thailand,
Commercial weather modification companies:
Weather Modification Incorporated
North American Weather Consultants, Inc., http://www.nawcinc.com/