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The Efficacy & Consequences of Cloud Seeding

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  • 0:00 Making It Rain
  • 0:32 What Is Cloud Seeding?
  • 2:50 Efficacy and Consequences
  • 3:57 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

Can we make rain? And not in a test tube either. Can we, like mighty Zeus, force nature to give us rain? Find out in this lesson as we go over the concept of cloud seeding.

Making It Rain

I'm currently in a part of the country that has experienced some of the worst droughts in decades. It's horrific here. Forest fires are everywhere. Smoke and pollution make it difficult to breathe. Crops are failing.

Could we force nature to help us out? Can we really make it rain by 'seeding' the clouds? What is cloud seeding, anyways? Let's talk this through and learn if it actually helps us make rain.

What Is Cloud Seeding?

In its basic form, cloud seeding is a technique that is designed to increase the precipitation from a cloud by adding material to the cloud. So, we're adding stuff to the cloud so it will rain! That's pretty much it.

There are two kinds of cloud seeding. One is called cold cloud seeding, and it's the more common form, and another technique is called warm cloud seeding. Very simply, warm clouds are clouds whose temperature are above freezing, and cold clouds are clouds whose temperatures are below freezing.

The clouds can be seeded with different materials, including:

  • Silver iodide (AgI), used in cold cloud seeding
  • Dry ice (CO_2), also used in cold cloud seeding
  • Salt (NaCl), used in warm cloud seeding

Since cold cloud seeding is the more common method of getting clouds to produce more rain, let's focus on this type of cloud seeding as I explain the important basic gist of how it works.

Imagine you are one very tiny, microscopic, water droplet that's part of the water vapor making up the cloud. Pure water vapor is actually kind of funky. You are a special kind of water. Despite being in a cloud that has temperatures below freezing, you are actually not frozen, little one!

And that's a problem. See, you, as a little water droplet, want to fall out of the sky and to the ground to nourish the plants and animals below. But you can't do that until you grow to a size large enough to fall out of the clouds. You need to get bigger and heavier to fall out of the puffy cloud propping you up and keeping you in the air.

Lucky for you, an airplane flies over your cloud and drops trillions of tiny silver iodide seeds into the cloud. This silver iodide causes the cold microscopic water vapor around it, including yourself, to freeze onto it in order to form ice crystals and snowflakes. It's like nails being attracted to a magnet; the water droplets simply freeze themselves to the silver iodide.

These crystals are then heavy and big enough to fall out of the puffy cloud. They either land as snowflakes or rain, depending on the temperatures below the cloud.

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