Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar Explores Consequences of Weather Modification – News
Andrew Lau, a first-year marine science student from New York, was fascinated by the concept of water as a commodity rather than a shared resource. “It’s a basic human need, so I never thought about it from an economic standpoint,” he said.
Many of the cases Yeh presented in her lecture demonstrated the conflicts that arise between science and humanity. Even the term “cloud seeding” has connotations that the water clouds they produce naturally can be harvested and used for profit. People who oppose cloud seeding have two main concerns. The first is that silver iodide, because it is insoluble, will lead to increased levels of silver in the environment, which can be harmful. However, Yeh cited studies that do not show elevated silver levels in areas where cloud seeding is common. Another concern is the community’s right to natural rainfall. People worry that rain falling before the cloud is “ready” robs the natural waterfall of the area where it would have fallen without human intervention. Yeh argues that climate change itself is a form of weather modification, and evidence suggests that cloud seeding creates the potential for more rain to fall downwind. Natural weather is important to people, and there are concerns when attempts are made to modify it.
She noted that cloud seeding operations in the United States have introduced new public-private partnerships into a geopolitical context. Discussions and lawsuits began to determine the rights of landowners to the moisture in the atmosphere above their lands. This issue has been settled in only three cases before state courts, each of which decided different standards of ownership.
At the international level, there is no agreement on the height of “volume sovereignty,” i.e. how high in the air a governing body has. Last February, a Chinese balloon was shot down off the coast of South Carolina, sparking an international debate over the legality of the airspace invasion, Yeh said. China claimed the balloon was studying the weather, and using the weather to try to defuse tensions, as if it were a shared resource. India and the UAE have also accused China of using weather as a weapon.
Yeh has been involved in several other geopolitical tensions involving cloud seeding. According to the Department of International Trade, the UAE has one of the highest per capita water consumption rates in the world. Cloud seeding offers the opportunity for “fantastic infinity of water”, but again this can be a problem because cloud seeding only works where there are already clouds, and the UAE is known for being an arid desert. As a solution to this problem, the UAE is considering terraforming to facilitate the formation of clouds in the atmosphere. This means they are building a giant artificial mountain that will force the air to rise naturally, creating more drag for the seeds.
Maggie Crawford is a first-year marine science student from Cape Cod, Massachusetts. As a student currently studying geology, she is interested in how this new mountain formation will affect the surrounding landscape.