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Major award for SA rainmakers

28 February 2006

A team of South African scientists led by Dr Deon Terblanche of the SA Weather Service have won first prize in a special international weather modification award for their innovative cloud-seeding project.

The award, established by the United Arab Emirates' Department of Atmospheric Studies and the World Meteorological Organisation in 2003, is aimed at awarding excellence and advancing the science of weather modification. It gives winners a sizeable cash award to continue their research.

The first prize, for excellent design and most successful execution of a national precipitation enhancement experiment, was awarded to Terblanche's team for their hydroscopic seeding technology project, considered a world showpiece, in Cape Town last week. Seven other prizes were also awarded.

"Water is the main limiting factor to development in South Africa as the country’s mean rainfall is less than half the global average," the SA Weather Service says.

"Water is a critical resource for socioeconomic development and maintaining the environment. Within the next 15 years South Africa will join a number of other countries which are classified as water scarce. Rainfall enhancement was identified as a viable option for further development and research … during the 1960s."

Group effort
The project was a team effort led by the Weather Service, the Water Research Commission and the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry.

Members included the Bethlehem Weather Office, private company CloudQuest, which conducted experiments and a major portion of the scientific research, Unisa, which provided statistical expertise to the project and the analysis of results, and the University of Stellenbosch for input in water resource modeling, cost benefit studies and environmental issues.

In 1990 a project by the Weather Service and one conducted by CloudQuest joined forces to form the National Precipitation Research Programme, which culminated in the South African Rainfall Enhancement Programme.

Since then the project has seen the development of hygroscopic seeding technology, developments in radar meteorology and the improvement of area rainfall estimation, establishing the South African National Weather Radar Network, and developing a state-of-the-art air borne research facility.

The research was conducted in the Bethlehem area and around Carolina in Mpumalanga, and around Polokwane and Tzaneen in Limpopo. It studied natural rainfall formation processes and techniques, looking at ways to increase their efficiency. The project also includes work related to the disciplines required to support such studies: statistics, radar meteorology, cloud microphysics, cloud dynamics, forecasting and hydrology.

World-class innovation
"This international recognition is seen as a boost to the South African water sector, once again demonstrating that with minimal resources, South Africa is capable of world-class innovation in the scientific field," the Weather Service says.

The research gives South Africa the opportunity of enhancing rainfall, with the potential to increase river runoff by up to 10% in certain circumstances. It can also be used as an integrated part of national water resource strategies.

The research has also had numerous spinoffs for South Africa, including a state-of-the-art radar network that is now being extended into neighbouring countries and an airborne research facility that plays a critical role in air quality assessment.

The prize includes US$200 000 (about R1.2-million), to be used to further the science of rainfall enhancement.

"The award is a significant achievement that will hopefully inspire young South Africans to venture into the fields of science and technology," the Weather Service says. "It also has a clear message regarding the benefits of teamwork and to work in an inspiring environment." reporter

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