Memorandum submitted by Dr James Lee (GEO
1. SUMMARY OF
Cloud seeding is a geo-engineering tool that
is widely used by more than 30 countries. With climate change,
fresh water resources will be in decline in many parts of the
world, particularly around the equator. One result may be an increase
in the use of cloud seeding. As cloud seeding becomes more effective
and widely disseminated, it may be a factor in conflict situations
or a reason to precipitate conflict. Disputes over cloud seeding
could fall under the Environmental Modification Treaty.
2. BRIEF INTRODUCTION
I currently hold administrative and faculty
positions at American University. Prior to that, I have worked
at the U.S. Trade Representative and U.S. Environmental Protection
3. FACTUAL INFORMATION
Most recently, I am the author of Climate Change
and Armed Conflict (Routledge, 2009), "Global Warming Is
Just the Tip of the Iceberg", Washington Post, 4 January
2009, and "A Brief History of Climate Change and Conflict",
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 14 August 2009. I also
run the website, Inventory of Conflict and Environment. http://www1.american.edu/ted/ICE/index.html
There needs to be a better understanding of
the modes for cloud seeding and its impacts. A beginning point
would be a multilateral registry of cloud seeding events with
information and data collection on key characteristics.
1. CLIMATE CHANGE
Countries will take measures to counteract and
adapt to climate change, namely trends of declining precipitation
and increasing temperature. There will be a great temptation and
need to use cloud seeding, the oldest and most common form of
environmental modification (a type of geo-engineering). Cloud
seeding is an issue regarding fresh water resources, rights, and
obligations. As with other water issues, cloud seeding can be
a source of dispute. Climate change will cause differing regional
impacts and thus a variety of motivations for cloud seeding.
It is important to distinguish between climate
change and weather, since cloud seeding is more likely to affect
the latter. Weather is a state of the atmosphere over the short-term
and more likely at specific points and places. Climate is a long-term
phenomenon expressed as average weather patterns over a long period.
Cloud seeding could affect climate when carried out over a long
period. Key measures of weather and climate are precipitation
The line between hostile and peaceful uses of
cloud seeding (and environmental modification in general) is extremely
thin and at times ambiguous. One country in the midst of a severe
humanitarian emergency may perceive cloud seeding as a benevolent
act. A neighbour country, encountering the same drought and humanitarian
crisis, may perceive their lack of rain as being "stolen"
by their neighbour. The key word here is "hostile",
which of course is in the eye of the beholder.
2. THE ENVIRONMENTAL
MODIFICATION (ENMOD) TREATY
During the Cold War, the United States and the
Soviet Union explored differing Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)
that included the use of nuclear, biological, and chemical devices.
In 1945, the mathematician John von Neumann met with other U.S.
scientists to discuss the possibility of deliberately modifying
weather (a new WMD) as a tool of war (von Neumann, 1955). Weather
modification was one way to destroy Soviet agricultural harvests,
cause mass starvation, harm their economy, and incite internal
dissension. The goal was to make the Cold War very cold.
There was widespread use of geo-engineering
during the Vietnam War. Between 1967 and 1972, the United
States ran Operation Popeye, a cloud seeding operation to disrupt
transport of military supplies along the Ho Chi Minh trail and
aimed at parts of South and North Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.
The operation occurred during the dry season when it was ordinarily
easiest for the North Vietnamese to move men and materials south.
While the program was successful in causing heavy rains out of
season, it was not successful in stopping the flow of men and
materials southward. Heavy rains attributed to the cloud seeding
program led to catastrophic floods in 1971 that caused a
poor harvest in North Vietnam.
The disclosure of Operation Popeye led many
to realize that such a tactic took the idea of "all-out war"
to a new level, and one that was disturbing. As a result, in 1977 countries
agreed to the "Convention on the Prohibition of Military
or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques"
(ENMOD). The treaty forbids the use of environment in hostile
circumstances and supports the use of weather modification for
peaceful purposes. Climate change is but one of a number of environmental
phenomena covered by this treaty.
Earthquakes, tsunamis; an upset in the ecological
balance of a region; changes in weather patterns (clouds, precipitation,
cyclones of various types and tornadic storms); changes in climate
patterns; changes in ocean currents; changes in the state of the
ozone layer; and changes in the state of the ionosphere.
(Convention on the Prohibition of Military or
Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental
Modification Techniques 1978)
A re-confirmation of the ENMOD principles occurred
at the Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the
1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. The statement suggests
far-reaching implications in the jurisdiction of a nation's sovereign
in accordance with the Charter
of the United Nations and the principles of international law,
) responsibility to ensure that activities within their
jurisdiction or control do not cause damage to the environment
of other States or of areas beyond the limits of national jurisdiction."
Most techniques covered by the ENMOD treaty
are quite speculative. Causing earthquakes or tsunamis is far
beyond the capacity of current technology. Cloud seeding, on the
other hand, is a technology that is often used.
No country has invoked ENMOD, but cases have
been possible candidates. During the 1991 Gulf War Iraqi
forces burned oil wells on a large scale, placing huge amounts
of particulates in the air that may have affected weather patterns
in neighbor countries. Iraq also polluted the Persian Gulf with
oil that did cause environmental damage to other states, upset
the ecological balance in a region, and led the mass sea life
3. A BRIEF HISTORY
Cloud seeding is one of several rainmaking techniques.
The first scientific demonstration of cloud seeding occurred in
1946 in the United States. The use of cloud seeding has substantially
grown over the last half century.
There is nonetheless controversy over the efficacy
of cloud seeding. While many countries report successes, the U.S.
National Academy of Science, National Research Council, published
a study in 2003 that questioned the utility of cloud seeding
and the extent of impacts outside of local areas. The report called
for greater research into practices for understanding and improving
cloud seeding effectiveness. The reality is that many countries
practice cloud seeding and believe it works. Regardless of the
scientific debate, the perception of the viability of cloud seeding
can lead to dispute.
Cloud seeding causes precipitation by introducing
substances into cumulus clouds that cause condensation. Most seeding
uses silver iodide, but dry ice (solid carbon dioxide), propane,
and salt are also used. At least 30 countries have identified
programs and some, like China and the United States, have extensive
programs (See Figure 1). Most countries that practice cloud seeding
are parties to the ENMOD treaty, but China is not.
("Overview of Weather Modification Programs
Around the World", National Center for Atmospheric Research)
There has been extensive use of cloud seeding
in the United States (see Figure 2), largely in the southern states
near the Mexican border. Programs concentrate on two geographical
areas. First, there are several south central states, such as
Texas, prone to dry conditions in the summer or during spring
planting. Hail suppression is a concern in Kansas and Oklahoma.
The other major nexus of use is the states in the Colorado River
Basin, including Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, and California,
who use it to increase winter snowpack. North Dakota seeds clouds
for hail suppression and Idaho for increasing fresh water resources.
("Overview of Weather Modification Programs
Around the World", National Center for Atmospheric Research)
The year that the Katrina and Rita hurricanes
devastated the U.S. Gulf Coast, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson
of Texas introduced S. 517 [109th Congress] the "Weather
Modification Research and Development Policy Authorization Act
of 2005". It calls for greater research and development into
cloud seeding (Section 5, "Duties of the Board") with
two key goals. (The measure has never become law.)
(1) improved forecast and decision-making technologies
for weather modification operations, including tailored computer
workstations and software and new observation systems with remote
(2) assessments and evaluations of the efficacy
of weather modification, both purposeful (including cloud-seeding
operations) and inadvertent (including downwind effects and anthropogenic
The United States began technical assistance
on clouding seeding to the Mexican state of Coahuila in 1996.
Canada uses cloud seeding for hail suppression while Brazil, Argentina
and Cuba use it for precipitation enhancement. In November 2009,
Venezuela began cloud seeding operations after El Nino conditions
led to droughts and water rationing in Caracas. Cuba provided
technical assistance to Venezuela in carrying out the program.
China's cloud seeding program is the largest
in the world, using it to make rain, prevent hailstorms, contribute
to firefighting, and to counteract dust storms. On New Year's
Day in 1997, cloud seeding made snow in Beijing, for probably
no other reason than popular enjoyment. During the 2008 Olympics,
China extensively used cloud seeding to improve air quality. China
sees cloud seeding as part of a larger strategy to lower summer
temperatures and save energy.
The Soviet Union and later Russia use cloud
seeding to assure good weather during political events, such as
a rain-free May Day parade. To save money, the mayor of Moscow
proposes use to lessen winter snowfall in the city.
Employing cloud seeding in emergencies illustrates
how perceptions of impact may differ. Soviet air force pilots
seeded clouds over Belarus after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster
of 1986 to prevent radioactive clouds from reaching Moscow
and other major populated areas. (Grey, "How we made the
Chernobyl rain", 2007). While Moscow saw benefit, Belarus
surely did not.
Many Middle Eastern countries are natural candidates
for cloud seeding. France conducted tests in Algeria as early
as 1952. Libya began testing in 1971, Jordan in 1986, Iraq under
Saddam Hussein in 1989, and Syria in 1991. Israel has a long-standing
cloud seeding program. Saudi Arabia has experimented with cloud
seeding, beginning in 1990 and is increasing its programs,
particularly in the southwest portion of the country near the
Iran has long experience with cloud seeding,
especially around Yazd, the driest major city in Iran. "Statistical
evaluation of the effectiveness of regular cold-cloud seeding
operation, carried out over the project territory in the Central
part of Iran during the period of operation, shows that from 0.7 to
1.9 km3 of additional water was obtained about 22-40%
of the natural seasonal precipitation annual." (Khalili,
"Results of Cloud Seeding Operations", 2008)
4. HOSTILE AND
Article I of the ENMOD treaty requires members
"not to engage in military or any other hostile use of environmental
modification techniques having widespread, long-lasting or severe
effects as the means of destruction, damage or injury to any other
State Party". The general intent of the treaty is to limit
the use of ecology in a military context. It distinguishes between
weather related actions (short-term) from those that are climate
related (long-term). The key word of course is "or",
meaning any one of the three is sufficient to cause a treaty violation.
The "Understanding Relating to Article I" provides the
three indicators of environmental modification covered by the
treaty and de minimus levels of impact.
(a) widespread: encompassing an area on the scale
of several hundred square kilometers;
(b) long-lasting: an act whose duration lasts
months, or approximately a season; and
(c) severe: involving serious or significant
disruption or harm to human life, natural and economic resources,
or other assets.
The treaty is clear on what it forbids: widespread,
long-lasting, or severe environmental modification. It is thus
quite revealing to consider what the treaty allows. It does permit
cloud seeding (or other actions) that may adversely affect a neighbour
so long it is undertaken without a military or hostile intent.
Further, military personnel could carry out a non-hostile action
as long as it was without military intent. The treaty permits
weather modification by the military even with a hostile intent
when it is localized, short-term, and produces positive outcomes.
These exceptions obviously can lead to ambiguity in real situations.
First, widespread refers to the geographic scope
covered by the treaty. Treaty violations occur when impacts exceed
300 square kilometers (or 186.4 miles), so a square
of roughly 17.3 kilometers (or 10.7 miles) in length
and width. Washington, DC (a partial square city) is 177 square
kilometers in comparison, so these are not extremely large areas
but they could be home to millions of people.
The second concept is long-lasting, denoting
time duration. One season corresponds to about three months. The
chosen months however would produce differing impacts. If cloud
seeding occurred during a planting season, it would mean the loss
of an entire year of production. If cloud seeding occurred in
the winter, to build snow pack for example, the impact may be
benign or even positive.
The third premise focuses on a severe disruption
to the environment and may be the most difficult concept to pinpoint.
Specific indictors might use socio-economic indicators (such as
income) or human health markers (such as infant mortality). A
violation might significantly reduce ecological, economic or health
indicators. A full understanding of impacts may not occur until
long after the act occurred.
The treaty references assisting other countries
in transferring technology related to the development of harmful
or hostile ENMOD techniques. This implies the trade of materials,
equipment, technology, or expertise. Export technology treaties
cover materials that may have military application as dual-use
technologies. The ENMOD Treaty suggests that exports of cloud
seeding technologies may as well fall into such categories.
5. BUILDING A
ENMOD Article III, 2. The States Parties to
this Convention undertake to facilitate, and have the right to
participate in, the fullest possible exchange of scientific and
technological information on the use of environmental modification
techniques for peaceful purposes.
Little scientific exchange seems to have resulted
from the ENMOD Treaty. Exchanging information is of course a first
step in a confidence building process in the development of a
treaty and its understandings. In cases of environmental modification,
collecting information on activities is a necessary beginning
point, starting with cloud seeding. A multilateral cloud-seeding
registry, that is voluntary, can begin to reduce possible future
ambiguities over weather modification by compiling and releasing
reports of country activity.
Registry information could include detail on
the clouding seeding event, starting with the scope, intensity,
and particular economic impacts on human health and economy. Countries
might also report the type of chemical used to induce rain and
the subsequent precipitation amounts in target and adjacent areas.
The data collected might also include specific indicators of widespread,
long-lasting, and severe impacts. The registry could be open to
non-signatories. Countries that have not joined ENMOD Treaty include
China, France, Nigeria, Indonesia, Spain, Mexico, South Africa,
and Saudi Arabia.
As climate change and technology proceed, the
desire and the ability to claim fresh water will extend into the
atmosphere and far underground. The registry may be a means to
offer transparency to uses of cloud seeding and avoid ambiguities
that may be the basis for dispute.
Cotton, W R, and R A Pielke, Sr., 2007, Human Impacts
on Weather and Climate. Cambridge University Press.
Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Any
Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques 1978.
Richard Gray, "How we made the Chernobyl rain",
22 April 2007, Telegraph, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/1549366/How-we-made-the-Chernobyl-rain.html.
Morteza Khalili Sr., M Seidhassani, F Golkar, and
V Khatibi, "Results of Cloud Seeding Operations for Precipitation
Enhancement in Iran during 1999-2007", Planned and Inadvertent
Weather Modification/Weather Modification Association, 22 April
National Academy of Science, National Research Council,
Critical Issues in Weather Modification Research, 2003.
"Overview of Weather Modification Programs Around
the World", National Center for Atmospheric Research http://www.rap.ucar.edu/general/press/presentations/wxmod_overview/index.html
UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, New York,
Von Neumann, J, 1955, "Can We Survive Technology?"
Dr James R Lee
Associate Director for Technical Support and Training
Center for Teaching Excellence and Adjunct Professor,
School of International Service