Scientists may be one step closer to controlling the weather — this time by studying the electricity inside of raindrops.
In a new study funded by the United Arab Emirates and published in the journal Proceedings on the Royal Society A, a team of researchers from the University of Reading in the UK found that it’s possible to encourage the formation of raindrops by supercharging clouds with electricity.
Clouds are full of water vapor, but rain only occurs when this vapor condenses into heavier droplets. To form into droplets heavy enough to create rain, the droplets require a sufficient opposite charge to bond to each other, positive to negative, and vice versa.
This new Reading research, however, suggests that isn’t always a prerequisite for rain droplets to form. If a charge is greater in one droplet — even if they have the same charge — they’ll still bond to each other.
The charges will then “migrate” from one to another, the paper claims, “which leads to an attractive force which can dominate if the drops are close to each other.”
The amount of charge in a given water drop, the paper continues, can also change when it acquires ions from a nearby electric field.
While applying electric fields to clouds would only make rain droplets five percent more likely to stick together, according to the team, the effect could still be great enough to stimulate or suppress rain.
As The Guardian notes in its write-up of the study, the United Arab Emirates have funded the team of scientists’ research since at least 2017 because the wealthy desert confederation happens to be an extremely dry place.
Last year, Harrison, Ambaum, and their colleagues piloted “rain drones” near Dubai to see if they could “cajole” rain out of the skies by releasing positive or negative ions into the clouds. While the technology takes its foundations from the type of “cloud seeding” experiments that date back to the 1950s, the addition of electricity, the team hopes, will boost the otherwise mixed results of previous experiments.
The same group of researchers have also suggested that 33-foot-tall rain towers may provide a more permanent way to electrify clouds.
The concept of electrocuting clouds to make it rain may seem far fetched, but given the very real concerns over droughts and water shortages, it doesn’t seem quite as outlandish as it once might have.
READ MORE: Have we finally found the recipe for making rain? [The Guardian]
More climate hacks: Scientists Reveal Plan to Cool the World Through Geoengineering