Weather modification, also known as geoengineering, is intentionally altering or controlling the weather. The most common form of weather modification is cloud seeding, spraying small particles, such as silver iodide, onto clouds in the attempt to increase rain or snow. Weather modification can also have the goal of preventing damaging weather, such as hail or hurricanes, from occurring.
Humans have a long history of trying to control the weather. In ancient India, rishis performed yajna or vedic rituals to encourage rain during droughts. Veterans of nearly every major war claimed more rain fell after large battles. To test this theory, in the late 1800’s the U.S. Department of War detonated explosives in Texas in hopes of condensing water vapor into rain. Around the same time in Europe, many agricultural towns in Northern Europe fired cannons without ammunition in the belief it would prevent hail. There’s not much evidence any of these had the intended results.
Given the extreme weather events of the last few years, it shouldn’t be a surprise we are seeing a rise in stories about “weather technology.” From cloud seeding to hurricane dissipation to carbon geoengineering, companies are promoting new technologies to help control the weather.
While it would be fair to be skeptical about these approaches, the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) has published research which “unambiguously [demonstrated] that cloud seeding can boost snowfall across a wide area if the atmospheric conditions are favorable.” Similarly, RIKEN researchers used chaos theory to show weather could be modified by making small adjustments to certain variables in the weather system. Less theoretically, there’s substantial evidence China has been successfully manipulating the weather since at least 2008.
Just because we can doesn’t mean we should.
Even though the potential benefits are large, we know from the law of intended consequences that the side effects may be worse than the benefits. For example, clearing forests to prevent fires has been shown to make wildfires worse when they eventually do happen. The same chaos theory used in controlling the weather also dictates that the control is fleeting and the future is unpredictable. Cue the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park.
Our planet’s ecosystem is stable but fragile. Controlling the weather is chaotic.
Without diminishing the risks you point out… Atmospheric seeding will likely be essential to keep global temperatures within tolerable limits while longer term de-carbonization is built out. It may take a while to figure out how to do this safely and effectively. We should get started on the research program.