China Has Started Geoengineering Rain Over Extreme Heat and Drought

China is reportedly planning to use cloud-seeding technology to force it to rain in an attempt to alleviate the drought conditions plaguing the Yangtze River basin—amid hot temperatures that have affected crop growth and forced the shutdown of industries in order to conserve energy.

Cloud seeding can cause it to rain artificially by sending airplanes into the clouds and releasing silver iodide. Geoengineering such as this may be the future in order to combat the effects of climate change on the planet, scientists say.

"We might be past the point of easy solutions. If we want to be able to provide future decision-makers with the best possible information, we need to compare the risks of using this technology with the risks of not using it," Doug MacMartin, a senior research fellow at Cornell University's Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, said in a statement in reference to solar radiation modification, an alternative aerosol geoengineering solution.

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Above, a stock image of the Yangtze River in China. China is reportedly planning to cloud seed over the Yangtze River basin to make it rain and combat the drought conditions. iStock / Getty Images Plus

This cloud-seeding approach works by improving a cloud's ability to produce rain by adding a nucleation point for raindrops to form around. Silver iodide, the compound sprayed into the clouds, exists naturally in the environment at low concentrations, according to the Desert Research Institute.

Some research into cloud seeding has found around a 15 percent increase in snow and rain production from clouds after being seeded with silver iodide, although many studies have also found that seeding has no effect on precipitation.

Meanwhile, drought is affecting large regions of the planet, with the effects expected to only worsen as climate change intensifies. About 41.23 percent of the U.S. by area is currently experiencing some degree of drought.

In China, the hottest summer on record is drying up parts of the Yangtze River, leading to the announcement of an emergency notice about the upcoming autumn harvest, urging local authorities to use water carefully.

Sichuan has seen 51 percent less rainfall than in past years, according to state news agency Xinhua, which cited the provincial branch of state grid. According to Chinese news media People's Daily Online, China's autumn grain production makes up about 75 percent of its total annual grain output.

There are some concerns that even if the China cloud-seeding efforts succeed in causing increased rainfall, the toxic silver ion from the silver iodide may be harmful to human and animal life. While some studies have found that silver iodide is not biochemically available, others have found that there is a potential for bioaccumulation in aquatic life. They show that while overall levels of the iodide are relatively low, they have exceeded health standards in areas with repeated exposure.

Additionally, some have pointed out that cloud seeding doesn't necessarily create rain but merely causes it to precipitate in one place rather than another.

Including cloud seeding, other geoengineering approaches have been suggested as short-term solutions to problems caused by the climate crisis. In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on August 12, Cornell researchers discuss the potential benefits of another aerosol-based geoengineering technique: solar radiation modification. This involved injecting sulfate aerosols into the stratosphere so that more sunlight bounces off the Earth's atmosphere and is therefore not absorbed by the atmosphere, warming it.

According to the authors, while the effects of these geoengineering approaches may not be ideal, they might be necessary to combat climate change.

"Even if we act aggressively on climate change, it will still get worse," said lead author MacMartin. "We face difficult decisions in the coming decades on whether or not to complement other climate-change mitigation strategies with methods for reflecting sunlight."

Whether or not China has begun its cloud-seeding approach, rain has finally started to fall in Sichuan.

Newsweek has contacted the Chinese Ministry of Ecology and Environment for comment.