Researchers are considering a monumental feat to increase the annual rainfall across the arid desert regions of the United Arab Emirates which would involve constructing a large, man-made mountain.
Researchers from the University for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), and the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) are in the process of a "modelling study" to determine the feasibility of such a project, according to a report from Arabian Business.
"What we are looking at is basically evaluating the effects on weather through the type of mountain, how high it should be and how the slopes should be," NCAR Scientist and Lead Researcher Roelof Bruintjes told Arabian Business. "We will have a report of the first phase this summer as an initial step."
Much of the UAE including areas like Dubai and Abu Dhabi only get 3 to 4 inches of rain yearly on average, AccuWeather Meteorologist Jim Andrews said.
"Along with drought, the climate is marked by intense summer heat, but also stifling humidity near the [Persian, Arabian and Oman gulfs]," he added.
According to the Arabian Business report, the purpose of building a mountain is to use its natural topography to force air to rise for the creation of clouds which can then be seeded. Cloud seeding is a form of weather modification already employed across the UAE to help increase the amount of rainfall from clouds.
"At first thought, the idea of building a mountain range big enough to meaningfully boost rainfall strikes me as absurd," Andrews said. "Now, if time and money were no object, it is doable, but [continuing] cloud seeding seems the more straightforward answer."
In 2015, more than $550,000 was spent on cloud seeding across the UAE, according to Arabian Business, but there is no estimate yet on what a man-made mountain might cost.
"In theory, all that humidity [from the gulfs] can be made available for rain, but I believe this would be extremely challenging to pull off," Andrews said. "The humid air is almost always capped by an inversion [or an increase in temperature with altitude] that squelches the upward motion needed to build rainstorms or thunderstorms."
Arabian Business reports the scientists researching the feasibility of a man-made mountain are uncertain in what location it could be built, or if it would be affordable.
"If the project is too expensive for the government, logically the project won't go through, but this gives them an idea of what kind of alternatives there are for the long-term future," Bruintjes told Arabian Business. "If it goes through, the second phase would be to go to an engineering company and decide whether it is possible or not."
While building a mountain might not be feasible at the moment, the method to increase rainfall holds water, according to Andrews, who said there are some mountains in the UAE in the hilly northeast which provide more rainfall in those regions.
Mountains play an important part in temperature, precipitation and wind, but constructing an artificial mountain might have unwanted consequences as well, Andrews added.
"Since tweaking the atmosphere by triggering rain artificially for instance has likely effect elsewhere, neighbors of any would-be mountain range may not be pleased to see clouds spilling their rain on the 'wrong' side of the border," Andrews added.