Rescuing Lake Oroumiyeh, reducing Tehran’s air pollution and fighting drought are challenges for which various government organizations are proposing artificial cloud seeding and fog spraying.
These ambitious ideas also have many opponents, who claim such methods cannot solve Iran’s environmental problems and may even have unfortunate outcomes.
Clouds come to Oroumiyeh’s aid
Iranian environmental officials have been emphasizing the benefits of cloud seeding in fighting Lake Oroumiyeh’s critical decline in water levels. Last May, the head of the Iran Environment Organization announced that seeding the clouds in the region had helped the lake’s water levels rise by 40 centimetres. However, environmental activists believe that high precipitation in the rainy month of May cannot really be attributed to artificial cloud seeding. Meanwhile, even this temporary rise in the lake’s water levels did not reverse its rapid depletion, and the water levels kept falling at a seriously fast rate during the summer months.
Cloud seeding, however, still remains one of the Environment Organization’s priorities in its efforts to fight the critical drying of Lake Oroumiyeh.
Fighting air pollution
The Iranian Environment Organization has also proposed cloud seeding to fight drought in other regions of Iran. Mohammad Mohammadizadeh, the head of the Environment Organization, has spoken about developing cloud-seeding technology domestically and stated that, while this method could increase precipitation in regions suffering from water shortages and droughts, it could also fight the phenomena of inversion and lack of air flow. These phenomena have intensified air pollution in large cities like Tehran, and the Environment Organization hopes to use cloud seeding to overcome them.
Doubt about the benefits of cloud seeding
Despite government statements about the benefits of cloud seeding, the success rate of this method has been questioned by many skeptical minds. For example, it has been pointed out that cloud seeding has not succeeded in increasing rainfall significantly in any country, nor has it overcome drought or water shortages in any substantial way. Some environmental experts believe that cloud seeding can be effective only on a small scale.
Mohammad Darvish is one of the experts who are not optimistic about the effectiveness of cloud seeding. In an interview with the Hamshahri daily, he said the United States recently faced its most serious drought in the past 50 years. Even though it is one of the countries that has made much progress in cloud-seeding technology, it was not able to counter that drought.
In Iran, cloud seeding has been used in regions such as Yazd and Alborz since 1974, but in the past four decades, annual rainfall in Yazd has remained unchanged at 50 mm.
Opponents of climate and weather engineering
Cloud seeding has been used to a limited degree in various countries to create limited change in weather, specifically to increase rainfall.
The method, however, has not succeeded as a serious solution for droughts on a large scale. In most cases, cloud seeding is accomplished by spraying chemicals such as silver iodide into clouds. Previously there had been some concerns about the potential negative effects of such chemicals on human health and the environment. Research has indicated, however, that the amounts used in this method are too small to have any significant impact on people or the environment.
Cloud seeding is a form of climate engineering, and in recent years there has been serious opposition to any sort of man-made changes to the global climate. In 2010, many environmental activists on the international level called on the United Nations to bar any activity that entails major changes in the climate. The methods under question could include creating artificial volcanoes, as well as large-scale cloud and ocean seeding to counter climate change. Many defenders of the environment believe that although these methods are aimed at combating climate change and reducing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, they can have adverse effects on the environment and species diversity and can ultimately result in unwanted climate change in other regions.
Clouds of politics and conspiracy against Iran
Cloud seeding is now being tied into political issues in Iran. Some government officials, including the president, have accused Western countries of reducing the level of precipitation in clouds as the approach Iran in order to cause droughts in the country.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, on a recent trip to Golestan Province, said the country is struggling with drought, and while part of this water shortage is unavoidable, parts of it are deliberate. He claimed that the enemy is depleting clouds that move toward the country and is thus engaged in an unbalanced human war. Similar statements have been made by the heads of the National Heritage and Environment Organizations. And some government officials have expressed belief in the idea that Iran’s enemies are using modern technologies to create drought in Iran.
Ahmad Bakhshayesh, the head of Parliament’s National Security Commission, responded to these statements in an interview with the Fars News Agency, saying that to claim Western countries are in charge of cloud management is to simplify the matter, and such claims should be backed by evidence.
The deputy head of Meteorological Research in Iran has also rejected such statements as unscientific and impossible, saying that even if such a thing were possible, the technology for it does not yet exist. Majid Azadi told IRNA that it is possible that a neighbouring country is carrying out cloud seeding, which may have some minimal effect on the level of rainfall in Iran; however, depleting the clouds is not possible.
[translated from the original in Persian]