Menu Menu

Could futuristic tech help to end China’s record droughts?

China, renowned for being first with technological advancements, is exploring cloud seeding, GM crops, and a multibillion-dollar water transfer project to address its severe drought problem.

Following an unprecedented 2-month heatwave, China is being forced to show its mettle as a leading innovator to survive record water shortages.

Between mid-June and August, the average temperature increase across provinces was reportedly around 1.2C higher than the seasonal norm.

While this may not sound like a lot, this shift has led to the lowest levels of rainfall in over 60 years, decimated croplands, large-scale wildfires, and damaged power supplies. In terms of duration, intensity, and impact, it has been regarded as the ‘most severe’ on record, according to experts.

In harrowing images beaming the world over, lakes have completely dried up and once grassy plains are now cracked and lifeless. Amid the frenzy to get things back on track, somewhat ironically, the country has decided to burn more coal to account for energy deficits.

While this news is obviously frustrating, the situation has become fairly desperate. Besides, this isn’t the only plan of action, and state-of-the-art technology is now entering into the fray.

Turning to technology

This may sound too farfetched to be true, but the science is solid.

Instead of doing a rain dance and hoping for the best, China’s scientists are using burgeoning technologies centred around the principle of ‘cloud seeding.’

First thought up by US meteorologist Vincent J. Schaefer in 1946, this practice involves actively prompting clouds into precipitation – hence the name.

Through introducing a compound called silver iodide to clouds, a 2019 study found that ice crystals formed in larger quantities and in-fact led to a rainfall increase of 20%.

In the years since, varying technological concepts have been created internationally and China is finally putting its two-pronged plan into action.

Last month, thin rockets containing silver iodide were blasted into clusters of clouds above the dry domain of Zigui county in Hubei. A combination of meteorological satellites and weather radars helped to identify the areas most promising for cloud seeding, and specially designed trucks aligned the projectiles.

Paired with this, adapted drones spent a combined 211 hours in flight attempting to induce rainfall. Covering over 1.45m kilometres of sky above Chongqing, Henan, and Shaanxi, these devices reportedly released flares containing the ice-forming agent at pre-designated spots.

We’re yet to see just how effective these endeavours will be, but desperate times call for desperate measures, right?

Scientists are now doubling down efforts to create drought-resistant crops, with the nation’s lucrative agriculture industry under threat. Thankfully, experts believe China to be a leader in this field, and the genetic engineering of wheat, rice, and soy are reportedly close to being cracked.

Aside from all of this scientific intervention, it has also recently been announced that a colossal engineering effort is underway to create a new network of canals and tunnels between the north and south. The estimated cost is around $62bn and the project is likely to take at least 10 years.

As we hope, all of this innovation may go some way towards improving China’s chances in the immediate battle against droughts. But, equally, it has to be reiterated that continuing to ignore the root cause of climate change will only lead to further catastrophes down the line.