Beset by Drought, Indonesia to Start Cloud Seeding to Induce Rain

After more than six weeks without rain, Indonesia will soon start cloud seeding in an effort to kickstart precipitation and end an El Niño-driven drought that has put 50,000 acres of crops at risk of harvest failure, Reuters reported. Indonesian officials said the at-risk crops are worth an estimated $215 million — a loss that could cause significant food instability in the region.

“Our priority is to maintain stability of food supply in Indonesia and avoid a drastic drop in production, which could result in a huge amount of imports,” Indonesian President Joko Widodo said last week.

Indonesian authorities said they will send salt flares into passing clouds as early as the end of this month. Salt naturally attracts water, and as the particles become saturated and heavier, they fall from the sky as raindrops. Indonesia previously used cloud seeding to fight fire-related haze in 2015 and to reduce flooding in Jakarta in 2013, by forcing clouds to release their rain over the ocean before reaching the capital city.

The country’s newest cloud-seeding operation will take place in Jakarta and Kupang, the provincial capital of East Nusa Tenggara, with the aim of generating rain over Java Island, Bali, West Nusa Tenggara, and East Nusa Tenggara. According to The Jakarta Post, at least 100 jurisdictions across the country are being affected by the current drought, including important rice-producing areas.

Cloud seeding was first tested in the 1940s and has become increasingly popular over the past few decades. Sri Lanka used the geoengineering technique to induce rain earlier this year to fight drought, though unsuccessfully, Mongabay reported. And the United Arab Emirates completed nearly 20 cloud-seeding missions over a two-week period in February. More than 50 countries currently use cloud seeding to alter weather, according to Chemical and Engineering News.

Despite nearly 80 years of use, however, there is still debate among scientists over cloud seeding’s effectiveness and long-term impacts. A 2003 report by the National Academy of Sciences found little evidence that cloud seeding has a statistically significant impact on rainfall. But a recent experiment, which involved dropping canisters of silver iodide into clouds, by scientists at the University of Colorado in Boulder induced snowfall in the mountains of southwestern Idaho, Science magazine reported.