Manufacturing clean air

Manufacturing clean air

Synopsis

Artificial Rain may be cure to getting rid of Lahore’s deadly smog

Manufacturing clean air
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health, with this weeks Air Quality Index Rating averaging at ‘Unhealthy.’ This is because the provincial capital finds itself engulfed in a deadly smog.

According to the National Geographic, smog is a form of air pollution that reduces visibility, and is a mix of smoke and fog, which had in previous decades originated from the burning coal in the winter. However, the smog we witness today is photochemical smog, which according to the scientific publication is, “produced when sunlight reacts with nitrogen oxides and at least one volatile organic compound (VOC) in the atmosphere. Nitrogen oxides come from car exhaust, coal power plants, and factory emissions, while VOCs are released from gasoline, paints, and many cleaning solvents. When sunlight hits these chemicals, they form airborne particles and ground-level ozone—or smog.”

Simply put, in the winter, when the brick kilns in Lahore burn most constantly and when famers in the wider Punjab province set ablaze the remnants of crops, a large amount of smoke is released into the air. This smoke mixes with the dense fog that occours in the winter months in the region and creates the hazardous, unbreathable smog that makes headlines across the nation.

According to environmental experts the cause of smog is historic in nature and based on years-long pollution cycles caused mostly by the transport sector and industries. It is not an isolated set of incidences that occour purely in the winter and then stops in summer. It is simply that the occurrent pollution becomes stagnant in the air due to the fog in the winter. Therefore, it is something that requires a long-term solution.

 

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Cloud-seeding

With no-end in sight during the winter months, citizens find themselves waiting for such a solution, and scientist claim that one such miracle that has the ability to clear the city’s toxic air does exist – the manufacturing of artificial rain.

Used in countries like Dubai, Turkey and United states, artificial rain is the well-known method of cloud seeding, a type of weather modification system. What cloud-seeding is, that it changes the amount of precipitation that falls from clouds, and in some cases works to generate storm clouds to create rainfall in drought-ridden and poor air quality areas.

How is this done exactly? It begins with the spraying of dry ice or silver iodide aerosols into the upper part of a cloud and getting it stimulate precipitation and eventually form rain. The stimulation is most commonly carried out through the use of airplanes and drones specifically designed for this purpose.  Dry ice is the most commonly used activator for precipitation as it is widely and cheaply available.

The cloud seeding can be done in three stages. The first of these is called ‘agitation’ –  in this stage, a chemical is used to stimulate the air mass upwind of the target site to rise and form clouds. The chemical is used to absorb the water vapour from the air kick starts the condensation process. Calcium oxides, ammonium nitrate, chloride or calcium carbonate, are the most commonly used chemicals for this purpose. The second is ‘building-up’ stage – during this the mass of the cloud is built up by using dry ice, urea and salts to increase the density of the clouds. The next step is referred to as ‘seeding’ – in pressurised canisters are used to create water droplets that eventually fall as rain.

Can Pakistan do it?

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With such complex science and equipment involved, many wonder is the country would be able to achieve such a daunting task. So far scientists at the Punjab University’s (PU) Centre for Integrated Mountain Research, say there is hope yet for Pakistan’s artificial rain endeavours. According, the Centre’s Director Professor Munawer Sabir a team is working in the Khanspur mountainous area to carry out experimental attempts at producing cloud-seeding, which they believe would dissipate the smog in Lahore.

“If we manage to create artificial rain for five to six hours in Lahore in [the winter] season then we can counter the impact of the smog as the dust and other elements posing risks to people’s health would be washed away,” said Professor Sabir.The team plans to carry out artificial rain tests in Lahore after November 19, 2021, following the success of the first trial

However, the costs involved and environmental concerns of cloud-seeding may mean that the technology might not be used as quickly as Professor Sabir may want. Initial results of a study carried out by t Federal Ministry of Climate Change, whose research will conclude later this year, found that while creating the rain is useful, stopping it is largely out of the control. After consulting Turkey, which used cloud-seeding to combat wildfires last year, the ministry found out that the Turkish government found that uncontrollable rains let to urban flooding.

While the officials remain hopeful, they say they are keen to fully study the phenomenon first before any attempt at using it occours. They maintained that more people lost their lives due to urban floodings in Turkey, than those from wildfires and they worry that Pakistan may face similar costs if it attempts to use the technology to combat smog in Lahore.

The Federal government is looking to China to help provide valuable insights on the matter as the country, who already collaborates with Pakistan on various initiatives, has widespread experience in creating, monitoring and controlling artificial rain.

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