Do you live in an arid region incapable of growing many crops? Does the rain pass right over you? What if you could stop it, say, by building an artificial mountain? This is what the United Arab Emirates is researching. Can they artificially create rain by trapping it with a constructed mountain?
The United Arab Emirates is a Middle Eastern nation that lies to the east of Saudi Arabia and Qatar. It is directly across the Persian Gulf from Iran. The weather in that region is dry, and the UAE gets less than 4 inches of rain a year. Much of the UAE’s land isn’t capable of growing crops. The average daily high is greater than 100-degrees Fahrenheit four months out of the year. Sandstorms and locust swarms are both common problems.
The UAE’s fishing industry enjoys success and is well supported. Many fruits and vegetables are grown there. Even so, the UAE still imports the majority of its food, and its aquifers are severely depleted.
The country’s been very pro-active on water use reduction, public parks, and creating forests. The government even provides trees and plants free to schools and homes. This helps prevent a process known as desertification, where dry environments becomes even more arid by losing their plant life. The loss of forests and greenery can grow at an exponential rate if left unchecked. The government’s efforts can help the area retain its plant life. This helps stave off a problem, but it does nothing to solve another: the region’s lack of water.
Enter the UAE’s National Center for Meteorology and Seismology. Working in partnership with the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (which is U.S.-based), they’ve suggested a novel approach to changing the weather patterns of the region: build an artificial mountain.
Such an endeavor might seem absolutely ridiculous. Although the UAE’s Burj Khalifa is the tallest human-made structure in the world, there’s a big difference between building a 2,722-foot skyscraper and an entire artificial mountain that would be substantially taller.
Nonetheless, the country has sculpted artificial land before – its Palm Islands are a wonder of large-scale engineering. While impressive, the dredging that was required to create them killed a square mile of coral. Developers placed two jets on the seafloor to create new reefs, but obviously this takes time and isn’t an equal tradeoff. The peninsula’s artificial shape has also led to stagnant water issues inside its breakwater that have led to algae and mosquito problems.
$400,000 is going into research on the UAE’s artificial mountain proposal – no one knows how viable it is or the unintended consequences it might have. Last year, the UAE spent more than half a million dollars on cloud seeding, a process whose effectiveness in creating rain clouds is controversial.
Moreover, the UAE isn’t a desert simply because it lacks a mountain. Global atmospheric circulation has the largest effect on regional conditions, and there’s no way to influence those.
A single artificial mountain would also make very little difference. Hold a finger in front of your lips and blow air on it – the air doesn’t reflect back onto your lips – it just goes around your finger. Wind and cloud patterns would do the same; they’d go around. You’d need an entire mountain range to trap the kind of rainfall the UAE needs to truly change its agricultural fortunes.
What do you think? Is the UAE on to something or are they barking up the wrong tree?