“In 1946, three G.E. scientists found that seeding clouds with dry ice or silver iodine could affect precipitation.” So opens the Letter from China in this month’s Green Issue of Vanity Fair. Sixty years later, it’s the Chinese who are using this controversial technology to control the weather.
So preoccupied are the Chinese with having a drizzle-free opening ceremony to this summer’s Olympic Games (a period that usually has a 50% chance of rain) that officials are trying the wring clouds clean of rain in advance, so as to lower the odds. “In the international press this has been written up in tones of suppressed amusement about Olympic anxieties and the wackiness of the Chinese.” However, as the article points out, the Chinese have been carrying out weather-modification efforts across the country for some time now. According to the Chinese Meteorological Administration (C.M.A.), the organization has 39,000 field operators equipped with 7,113 anti-aircraft cannons and 4,991 truck-mounted rocket launchers. “In 2006, they fired a million rounds at the weather, and launched 80,000 rockets”.
The effectiveness of all these pounds of dry ice, silver iodide and gallons of liquid nitrogen are unclear. The Chinese state news agency reports that between 1999 and 2006, China produced on average 36 billion metric tons of artificial rain per year. Just how this can be distinguished from natural precipitation remains elusive. As well as the Olympic blue-sky initiative, the Chinese hope that rain-seeding can help alleviate drought in Northern Tibet caused in part by global warming, which has melted its permafrost. However, what affect this controversial technology will have on climate change itself also remains unclear.