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Karnataka begins cloudseeding to induce rains

Fakir Chand in Bangalore | August 19, 2003 06:15 IST

Facing drought for the third consecutive year, the beleaguered Karnataka government has taken up cloudseeding to induce rains in the northern and southern parts of the state.

The US-based Weather Modification Inc, which bagged the Rs 5.65-crore (Rs 56.5 million) contract, has flown its men and machinery to the state for undertaking the operation, which comes in the middle of the southwest monsoon season.

As reported earlier, Karnataka is facing acute drought in 126 talukas due to deficit rainfall. In 2001, the state received only 113cm of rainfall, registering a 11 per cent deficit, and in 2002, with only 81cm rainfall, the deficit shot up to 29 per cent.

During the current year, the rainfall deficit is estimated to be about 20 per cent short after two months of the southwest monsoon season. Barring the coastal region, rainfall has been less-than-normal to scanty in the northern and southern interior parts of the state.

Code-named Project Varuna, the cloud-seeding operation will be conducted for 150 hours across the state covering an area of 400 sq km.

"We have been given the contract to conduct the experiments in the next 90 days. Majority of the operations will be carried out during night when wind speeds are expected to be moderate to induce rainfall," Weather Modification managing director Jim Sweeny said.

"Rain will materialize from thick clouds when larger droplets collide with smaller droplets in a process known as coalscene," Sweeny told mediapersons even as the company's aircraft readied for take-off from the Jakkur aerodrome for a short hop to the IAF base at Yelahanka on the outskirts of Bangalore.

The 8-seater aircraft, being flown by Paul Meier, is equipped with belly-mounted ejectible silver iodide (dry ice) and wing-mounted burn-in flare racks to induce rain-bearing clouds to open up.

The US firm has brought its own Doplar radar and other weather equipment, a 20-member strong team of scientists and Met experts to conduct the operation.

"The operation of monitoring the rain-bearing clouds will be carried with a computer-aided system on board the turbo-prop aircraft and a radar installed at the base station," Weather Modification officials said.

The company had carried similar operations in 15-20 countries in Asia, West Asia and Latin America over the last four decades and its officials said the success rate was about 30 per cent.

Asked how much rainfall is expected on account of the cloud-seeding operation, Sweeny told rediff.com that similar operations conducted in tropical areas in other countries led to 15-20 per cent increase in rainfall. "We hope to achieve that much in Karnataka too," he said.

The first sortie took place on Monday evening with state Irrigation Minister H K Patil and Public Works Minister Dharam Singh on board. The target was the rain-bearing clouds in neighbouring Kolar district.

According to Patil, the focus in the next couple of days would be on the south interior parts of the state where the rainfall deficit has been 20-30 per cent.

"The aircraft will cover Anekal, Devanahalli and Gubbi in Kolar and Tumkur districts, which are facing acute shortage of drinking water," Patil disclosed.

The state government has sought permission of the IAF to use its air bases at Yelahanka and Bidar for operating the aircraft, as they are equipped for operations at night. Operations will also be conducted from the Hubli and Belgaum civilian airports.

Sweeny said Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh have also shown interest in conducting similar operations.

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