The desert country of the United Arab Emirates, known for developing unprecedented, ambitious projects, is planning to build an artificial mountain to increase its rainfall as the country registers around 3 inches of rainfall per annum.
The UAE tasked the US National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) with conducting the feasibility study of the project.
According to the Dubai-based Arabian Business news website, the UAE paid $400,000 for the study and the project is currently at its “detailed modeling study.”
Building a man-made mountain would be a technical and geographical challenge. NCAR researcher Roelof Bruintjes said the project would involve “evaluating the effects on weather through the type of mountain, how high it should be and how the slopes should be.”
The technique is based on the meteorological orographic precipitation concept explaining that moist air rises on one side of the mountain before cooling and forming clouds on the other side facing the wind and falling as rain. The report of the first phase is expected in summer.
UAE has used cloud seeding in the past and a meteorologist with the UAE claimed that it contributed to the record rainfall of 11 inches on a single day in March. The country invested almost $56,000 in cloud seeding last year.
UAE is heavily dependent on desalination costing around $60 per cubic meter compared to $1 through cloud seeding though it is much more unreliable.
The man-made mountain project could be the cheapest without any visible further cost but Bruintjes warned that “if the project is too expensive for the government,” they would have had “an idea of what kind of alternatives there are for the long-term future” and could possibly seek funding from private engineering firms.
Raymond Pierrehumbert, a professor of physics at the University of Oxford, said the best possible result is having a tiny amount of rainfall in a small area close to the mountain.
UAE’s lack of rainfall coupled with high water consumption and temperatures reaching above 37°C signal that groundwater reserves could be depleted within the next 50years. The government has embarked on introducing water conservation policies but they are yet to be effective.
In a country where rain rarely falls and clouds insufficiently formed, emulating the natural meteorological orographic precipitation concept could be a long trial and error process before satisfactory results are obtained.