China wants to make it rain.
If government officials in the world’s fourth-largest country have their way, a man-made weather-control machine will produce up to 10 million cubic meters of rain across the Tibetan Plateau — an area roughly the size of Alaska.
As an extension of the “Sky River” project developed in 2016 by scientists at China’s Tsinghua University, the Chinese state-owned Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation has developed rain-inducing machines that disperse tiny silver iodide particles into the atmosphere.
The particles then act as nucleation centers for condensed water — in other words, allow the water molecules to stick together and eventually form a cloud that will become heavy enough to rain. In natural weather systems, it’s typically particles of dust that allow condensation to nucleate.
There’s no question the system works — the government used it to absorb moisture in the sky and produce precipitation ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, thereby ensuring a dry week for the event. If the experiment on the Tibetan Plateau is successful, the resulting rain could equal approximately 7 percent of China’s annual water consumption, mitigating the drought conditions that have plagued much of the world — and especially China — the past few years.
“[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 told the South China Morning Post. The Tibetan Plateau is the source of most of China’s water; each of the machines is expected to create a 3-mile-long string of rain clouds.