2017-06-06 00:47
Korea looks to cloud seeding in war on fine dust
The National Institute of Meteorological Sciences conducts a cloud-seeding test for artificial snow over Daegwallyeong mountain pass in Gangwon Province in February 2009. / Courtesy of National Institute of Meteorological Sciences

By Ko Dong-hwan

Korea is looking to cloud-seeding to help combat the dangerous fine dusts originating inside and outside the country.

The initiative comes late on the world stage, with about 40 countries, most rigorously the U.S. and China, having already employed the method of controlling the weather.

Gyeonggi provincial government announced this month it will hold a pilot test as part of its long-term plan to reduce the increasing volumes of harmful micro particles drifting in from deserts and industrial plants in China.

The National Institute of Meteorological Sciences (NIMR), Korea’s leading climate modification research organization, based in Seogwipo, Jeju Island, joined in the test.

Researchers plan to conduct cloud-seeding tests over the west coast, which faces China across the West Sea. The Gyeonggi government will receive the test data, analyze the feasibility of cloud-seeding in the maritime region, and determine whether to use it officially.

“There are countries that have already accumulated substantial cloud-seeding data,” Bae Hyun-sub from the Gyeonggi government Climate and Air Quality Management Division told The Korea Times.

“One American weather modification company is so qualified that it receives orders from other countries to conduct tests over their skies.

“Meanwhile, Korea has just started the tests at a governmental level. We will find if there is a correlation between cloud seeding and fine dust reduction.

“If we do find this, we will use the evidence to persuade the central government to support cloud seeding.”

The National Institute of Meteorological Sciences rented this Cessna 206 from a Korean company for cloud-seeding tests, which have been conducted since 2008.

First tested in upstate New York in 1946, cloud seeding is a weather modification technology, in which chemical substances are seeded inside clouds by aircraft, rockets or on-ground incinerators to create artificial rain and/or snow or to clear away fog.      

The Gyeonggi government will carry out tests until July next year with a 2 billion won ($178,000) budget.

With the NIMR scheduled to start tests using the fund as early as September, the government has recruited four climate and atmospheric experts from the Gyeonggi Research Institute to analyze the data.

The NIMR plans to hold three tests, monitoring each operation using an automatic weather system and micro rain radar equipment.

The devices will allow researchers to read atmospheric conditions in terms of wind direction, wind speed, temperature, humidity and pressure.

The researchers will also be able to check  the changing sizes of cloud condensation or ice nuclei _ silver iodine or dry ice dispersed by cloud seeding that alters microphysical processes within the cloud.

The team plans to acquire research aircraft from the U.S. to  disperse the chemical substances, or “seeds,” into the clouds.

Researchers will track the seeds, the duration of any artificial rain and its possible ecological effects.

“Cloud seeding has mostly been conducted over the east coast because mountainous regions along the Taebaek Mountain Range flanking the coast offer good geographic conditions for cloud seeding, especially for snow enhancement,” said a NIMR researcher leading the cloud-seeding tests, but who asked to remain anonymous.

“Although it remains doubtful that the tests will successfully result in artificial rain over the flat terrain of the west coast, there is still a possibility. In similar regions around Moscow, cloud seeding resulted in manmade precipitation.”

The NIMR’s cloud-seeding team said in a journal research paper “Estimation for the Economic Benefit of Weather Modification (Precipitation Enhancement and Fog Dissipation)” (2010) that air pollution caused by fine dusts could be partially controlled by enhancing rain or snow.

The Korea Meteorological Administration (KMA) conducted a cloud-seeding test in 2010, which resulted in two millimeters of rain at Anseong, Gyeonggi Province, evidence of the technology’s possible cleansing effect.

A research aircraft disperses chemical substances, usually silver iodine or dry ice, inside clouds  during a cloud-seeding test in June 2014.

The correlation between fine dusts and rain was also shown in research by the Gyeonggi Institute of Health Environment.

In November 2015, researchers recorded an average of 35 micrograms per cubic meter of fine dusts in the atmosphere over Gyomun-dong in Guri, Gyeonggi Province. In one year, the level jumped to 69. The researchers concluded that decreasing precipitation was behind the worsening pollution.

The first cloud-seeding test in Korea was conducted in 1963. A Dongguk University professor and his team used ground incinerators and aircraft to disperse dry ice over clouds.

Because of a shortage of money, the tests were halted until 2001, when severe drought brought the idea to the fore again.

In 2003, the KMA and the Gangwon Regional Office of Meteorology built the Cloud Physics Observation Center above  Daegwallyeong, a mountain pass close to the east coast in Gangwon Province, to analyze particles in clouds or fog before and after cloud-seeding tests.

“At the observation center, we have been testing artificial snow for the past 10 years, flying research aircraft 36 times, to prepare for the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in 2018. It has been our main project so far,” the NIMR researcher said.

“But with the latest tests, we will start compiling our data on artificial rain.”


Related story