How Chinese Scientist Wants to Control the Weather

Plans to bring down the rain and create an ‘artificial climate’ are increasing, but the technology used for this could have a negative impact on the environment and people.


What if, instead of predicting the weather, we end up controlling it? While artificial intelligence can predict the weather with much higher reliability, researchers are already looking at the next step, whether or not rain falls on demand.

For the past year, China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation has been leading the largest artificial rain project in the world. To understand what it is, we must go back to 1950 – at the time, seeding began to be used around the world to fight against desertification. To modify the weather conditions, it was necessary to release aerosols (silver iodide, liquid nitrogen or sodium chloride) in the clouds (by means of rockets, airplanes or anti-aircraft guns), to increase their condensation. France has also used it in 2017, to protect the vineyards from hail.


According to the World Meteorological Organization, on-demand weather is now the subject of hundreds of projects in 52 countries – starting with the USA, where 63 “artificial rain” projects have been carried out since 2008. China is not left out: since the 1960s, it sows clouds to fight against heatwave and drought, and also to prevent rain during the military parades.

The weather on demand

But now, the former Middle Kingdom goes further by developing a technique of geo-engineering which should allow it to manufacture of clouds and artificial rain, an almost industrial scale.

Developed by the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (a state-owned enterprise specializing in space exploration projects), this project will bring about 10 billion cubic meters of precipitation per year on the Tibetan Plateau, Asia’s largest freshwater reserve. The idea is to place 10,000 combustion chambers in the Himalayan mountains to disseminate a multitude of particles of silver iodide in the clouds.

fuel-burning chambers
One of the chambers in operation in Xinjiang autonomous region. Photo:

China, which is also working on the creation of an “artificial moon” to light the streets of its major cities, intends to set up a rainwater network three times larger than Spain. According to the China Morning Post, the daily operation of the rooms will be “dictated by very accurate data collected in real time,” from a network of 30 small satellites, which will monitor the activities of the monsoon over the Indian Ocean.

Strategic advantage but threats to the environment

Beyond fighting forest fires and threatening water scarcity in many parts of the world, it is a good way for China to gain a strategic advantage over its neighbors – the case of a potential water war caused by the inevitable multiplication of drought episodes. It is, therefore, probably not a coincidence that the seeding of clouds is the subject of research for strategic and military purposes in China, but also in Russia and the USA – which have already used iodide money to cause rain and slow down their opponents during the Vietnam War.

There remains an environmental impact that could be caused by large-scale cloud seeding. Many researchers fear that artificial rain over a given area will be at the expense of other regions but also that silver iodide affects the health of the inhabitants of the regions concerned. It is because this insoluble matter in water could expose humans to kidney and lung damage, or even gastric bleeding in addition to being harmful to the fauna and flora.

The question is not so much whether we will ever manage to control the weather, rather than whether we should do it.

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