United Arab Emirates Is Considering Building a Fake Mountain to Bring Real Rain

A Colorado scientist says he's researching whether building a giant artificial mountain can combat drought.
2.5.16

The United Arab Emirates is looking into building an "artificial mountain" to help increase rainfall in the desert country, and has hired scientists from the Colorado-based National Center for Atmospheric Research to decide whether or not the project is feasible.

Monday morning, Arabian Business reported that the UAE is looking into literally constructing a mountain in the country in order to help increase cloud cover which could, in theory, lead to more rainfall. A scientist at the NCAR confirmed to me that he is working on the project but said he couldn't talk more about it until he had results to publish.

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Building a mountain would be a pretty extreme step, but, at least philosophically, it's in line with the UAE's ongoing cloud seeding geoengineering program.

In 2015, the UAE ran 186 different cloud seeding missions, which cost $558,000. So far, its cloud seeding programs have mostly been considered a success—in fact, back in March, record rainfalls soon after a series of cloud seeding missions led to flooding in the country.

Building a mountain would be a much more permanent and much more expensive step than cloud seeding, in which dry ice, silver iodide, or potassium iodide are pumped into clouds to increase rainfall. So far, the UAE has paid NCAR about $400,000 to research the idea, according to Arabian Business; previous estimates for the cost of an artificial mountain in other countries have placed the price tag in the hundreds of billions of dollars.

Thus far, we have essentially no details about what the mountain would be made of, how it would be built, and what the environmental toll of actually building it would be. The closest actual project that comes to mind here is China's program to literally move mountains to build cities, which has been environmentally disastrous.

Roelof Bruintjes, a weather modification scientist at the NCAR, confirmed to me that he's working on the project, but said he couldn't comment on it specifically because "research is still ongoing."

"We do not have any results yet," he told me. Bruintjes has an extensive history researching cloud seeding.

"What we are looking at is basically evaluating the effects on weather through the type of mountain, how high it should be and how the slopes should be," Bruintjes told Arabian Business. "Building a mountain is not a simple thing."