WA cloud seeding scientist backs new research bid

28 Jul, 2004 10:00 PM
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THE scientist who carried out the last WA cloud seeding study, in the Bencubbin region during the early 1980s, has backed the call for new research using the latest technology.

Curtin University physicist Ian Bailey attended a seminar by international cloud seeding experts Patrick Sweeney and Roelof Bruintjes.

"I think it deserves another look because the technology is so much more efficient," Dr Bailey said.

He said the measuring instruments, and in particular development of radar, has made cloud seeding a much more precise science since he conducted experiments.

"The only real feasible way of measuring rainfall when we did the trials was by rain gauges on the ground and if you put two rain gauges 100m apart they'll get completely different readings," he said.

"But today with their radars they can actually measure the amount of rain coming from the cloud and make a more reasonable assessment over a larger area.

"Their particle measuring facilities have also improved out of sight."

Dr Bailey, the national secretary of the Australian Institute of Physics, believed the WA geography and topography could be suitable for cloud seeding.

"In many ways our situation is one of the best in the world because when you look at any other comparable situation they've got mountains, industries and high pollution areas," he said.

"We've got vast areas of nothing and geographically WA is a billiard table. Certainly down south, it's the most pristine area for work of this nature so I think we've got advantages."

Dr Bailey's research from the three-year trial found there were probably enough seedable clouds to increase rainfall and be commercially beneficial.

But the result probably couldn't be measured with the facilities available at that time.

Dr Bailey said nobody in WA had looked at cloud seeding since his report, funded by Bencubbin farmers ($150,000) and the State Government ($300,000), was completed in 1982.

He said the Bencubbin area was probably the most difficult area of the Wheatbelt to seed clouds.

The area bordering Ballidu, Morawa, Mullewa and Bencubbin missed out on a lot of winter cold fronts.

"They get more rain from the cloud that comes down in the north westerly stream from the tropics rather from cold fronts," he said.

"So they are probably in the worst area and that was a time when there were lots of droughts, the three-year drought from 1976-1979 was horrendous."

Dr Bailey said his study focused on measuring the potential of clouds to be seeded, not so much on seeding.

But on the rare occasion that the clouds were seeded with dry ice the changes were clear.

"We had photographs showing that cloud definitely changed as a result of it," he said.

"There was nothing new or exciting, but there was no doubt that it did work, it affected the cloud."

He said the study found that there were only about 6-10 occasions a year that provided cloud seeding conditions.

"Cloud seeding increases the rain you get, and the more the merrier," he said.

"As long as you get a decent start to the season the most useful time for extra rain is September-October because that's the rain that fills out the grain.

"It's also the time when seedable occasions are dropping off, but then again if you've got more moisture in the ground from earlier on in the season it's all useful stuff.

"We are not talking about big bikkies. If you're talking about 200mm of rainfall, if you can put an extra 10pc, that's 20mm."

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