by Stephen Chen
needs more water.
So it's building
a rain-making network
three times the
size of Spain.
Vast system of chambers on Tibetan plateau
enough particles into the atmosphere
extensive clouds to form.
As a Technocracy,
China has a scientific solution for everything,
including its perceived lack of fresh water.
Their solution is
to install tens of thousands of cloud-seeding chambers
in Tibet that will create clouds to dump rain on China.
The project is
developed by state-owned China Aerospace Science and
Technology Corporation, a defense contractor.
This article was
reported in the South China Morning Post.
China is testing cutting-edge defence technology to develop a
powerful yet relatively low-cost weather modification system to
bring substantially more rain to the Tibetan plateau, Asia's biggest
The system, which involves an enormous network of fuel-burning
chambers installed high up on the Tibetan mountains, could increase
rainfall in the region by up to 10 billion cubic meters a
year - about 7 per cent of China's total water consumption -
according to researchers involved in the project.
Tens of thousands of chambers will be built at selected locations
across the Tibetan plateau to produce rainfall over a total area of
about 1.6 million square kilometers (620,000 square miles), or three
times the size of Spain. It will be the world's biggest such
The chambers burn solid fuel to produce
silver iodide, a cloud-seeding
agent with a crystalline structure much like ice. The chambers stand
on steep mountain ridges facing the moist monsoon from south Asia.
As wind hits the
mountain, it produces an upward draft and sweeps the particles into
the clouds to induce rain and snow.
One of the fuel-burning chambers
have been deployed on the Tibetan plateau.
"(So far,) more than
500 burners have been deployed on alpine slopes in Tibet,
Xinjiang and other areas for experimental use. The data we have
collected show very promising results," a researcher working on
the system told the South China Morning Post.
The system is being
developed by the state-owned China Aerospace Science and
Technology Corporation (CASC)
- a major space and defence contractor that is also leading other
ambitious national projects, including lunar exploration and the
construction of China's space station.
Space scientists designed and constructed the chambers using
cutting-edge military rocket engine technology, enabling them to
safely and efficiently burn the high-density solid fuel in the
oxygen-scarce environment at an altitude of over 5,000 meters
(16,400 feet), according to the researcher who declined to be named
due to the project's sensitivity.
While the idea is not new - other countries like the United States
have conducted similar tests on small sites. China is the first to
attempt such a large-scale application of the technology.
The chambers' daily operation will be guided by highly precise
real-time data collected from a network of 30 small weather
satellites monitoring monsoon activities over the Indian Ocean.
The ground-based network will also employ other cloud-seeding
methods using planes, drones and artillery to maximize the effect of
the weather modification system.
The gigantic glaciers and enormous underground reservoirs
found on the Tibetan plateau, which is often referred to as Asia's
water tower, render it the source of most of the continent's biggest
rivers, including the,
The rivers, which flow
...and several other
countries, are a lifeline to almost half of the world's
But because of shortages across the continent, the Tibetan plateau
is also seen as a potential flashpoint as Asian nations struggle to
secure control over freshwater resources.
Despite the large volume of water-rich air currents that pass over
the plateau each day, the plateau is one of the driest places on
Earth. Most areas receive less than 10cm of rain a year. An area
that sees less than 25cm of rain annually is defined as a desert
by the US Geological Survey.
Rain is formed when moist air cools and collides with particles
floating in the atmosphere, creating heavy water droplets.
The silver iodide produced by the burning chambers will provide the
particles required to form rain.
Radar data showed that a gentle breeze could carry the cloud-seeding
particles more than 1,000 meters above the mountain peaks, according
to the researcher.
A single chamber can form a strip of thick clouds stretching across
more than 5 km.
"Sometimes snow would
start falling almost immediately after we ignited the chamber.
It was like standing on the stage of a magic show," he said.
Click above image...
The technology was
initially developed as part of the Chinese military's weather
China and other countries, including Russia and the United States,
have been researching ways to
trigger natural disasters such
as floods, droughts and tornadoes to weaken their enemies in the
event of severe conflict.
Efforts to employ the defence technology for civilian use began over
a decade ago, the researcher said.
One of the biggest challenges the rainmakers faced was finding a way
to keep the chambers operating in one of the world's most remote and
"In our early trials,
the flame often extinguished midway (because of the lack of
oxygen in the area)," the researcher said.
But now, after several
improvements to the design, the chambers should be able to operate
in a near-vacuum for months, or even years, without requiring
They also burn fuel as cleanly and efficiently as rocket engines,
releasing only vapors and carbon dioxide, which makes them suitable
for use even in environmentally protected areas.
Communications and other electronic equipment is powered by solar
energy and the chambers can be operated by a smart phone app
thousands of kilometers away for through the satellite forecasting
The chambers have one clear advantage over other cloud-seeding
methods such as using planes, cannons and drones to blast silver
iodide into the atmosphere.
requires the establishment of a no-fly zone. This can be
time-consuming and troublesome in any country, especially
China," the researcher said.
One of the chambers in operation
Xinjiang autonomous region.
The ground-based network also comes at a relatively low price - each
burning unit costs about 50,000 yuan (US$8,000) to build and
install. Costs are likely to drop further due to mass production.
In comparison, a cloud-seeding plane costs several million yuan and
covers a smaller area.
One downside of the burning chambers, however, is that they will not
work in the absence of wind or when the wind is blowing the wrong
This month, the China Aerospace Science and Technology
Corporation signed an agreement with
Tsinghua University and Qinghai
province to set up a large-scale weather modification system on the
In 2016 researchers from Tsinghua, China's leading research
university, first proposed a project - named Tianhe or Sky
River - to increase the water supply in China's arid northern
regions by manipulating the climate.
The project aims to intercept the water vapor carried by the Indian
monsoon over the Tibetan plateau and redistribute it in the northern
regions to increase the water supply there by five to 10 billion
cubic meters a year.
The aerospace corporation's president, Lei Fanpei, said in a
speech that China's space industry would integrate its weather
modification program with Tsinghua's Sky River project.
weather in Tibet) is a critical innovation to solve China's
water shortage problem," Lei said.
"It will make an
important contribution not only to China's development and world
prosperity, but also the well being of the entire human race."
Tsinghua president Qiu
Yong said the agreement signaled the central government's
determination to apply cutting-edge military technology in civilian
The technology will
significantly spur development in China's western regions, he added.
The contents of the agreement are being kept confidential as it
contains sensitive information that the authorities have deemed
unsuitable to be revealed at the moment, a Tsinghua professor with
knowledge of the deal told the Post.
Scientists at Tsinghua University in Beijing
devised the plan for the "Sky River".
Climate simulations show that the Tibetan plateau is likely to
experience a severe drought over the coming decades as natural
rainfall fails to replenish the water lost as a result of rising
network and weather modification measures are to make
preparations for the worst-case scenario," the Tsinghua
The exact scale and
launch date for the program has not been fixed as it is pending
final approval from the central government, he said.
Debate is also ongoing within the project team over the best
approach for the project, he added. While some favor the use of the
chambers, others prefer cloud-seeding planes as they have a smaller
Spring is coming earlier to the Tibetan plateau and it could affect
the lives of millions
Ma Weiqiang, a researcher with the
Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of
Tibetan Plateau Research, said a cloud-seeding
experiment on such a scale was unprecedented and could help answer
many intriguing scientific questions.
In theory, the chambers could affect the weather and even the
climate in the region if they are built in large enough numbers.
But they might not work
as perfectly in real life, according to the researcher.
"I am skeptical about
the amount of rainfall they can produce. A weather system can be
huge. It can make all human efforts look vain," Ma said.
Beijing might not give
the green light for the project either, he added, as intercepting
the moisture in the skies over Tibet could have a knock-on effect
and reduce rainfall in other Chinese regions.