Cloud seeding could prevent bushfires says engineer Aaron Gingis

Cloud seeding could prevent bushfires says engineer Aaron Gingis

24 August 2009

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Australia — Victoria’s horrendous next bushfire season could be averted if we adopt controversial cloud-seeding to boost rainfall, a climate expert claims.

Environmental engineer Aaron Gingis says Victorian and federal authorities have failed to properly consider using cloud-seeding technology to trigger rain over the state’s worst bushfire zones.

He says more rain could be generated over the Dandenong Ranges and other bushfire-threatened zones with a $5 million outlay, but the state had ignored repeated attempts to consider his proposals since 2002.

“The evidence clearly shows that air pollution reduces precipitation by at least 40 per cent, which in turn has resulted in the tinder-dry conditions,” Mr Gingis wrote to Police Minister Bob Cameron soon after the devastating fires.

Mr Gingis claimed his company, Australian Consolidated Management, could target rain to suppress dry woodland conditions to reduce fire hazards and even “assist in extinguishing bushfires”.

He says using a salt spray mimicking the action of sea air could be injected into clouds to trigger rain and prevent fires.

But federal and state authorities have discounted the research, saying there is still no concrete proof cloud seeding works.

“Due to the uncertainties associated with cloud seeding and the limited seeding opportunities from the current drought conditions, the Victorian Government has chosen not to be involved in cloud seeding programs at this time,” a State Government spokesman said today.

But Mr Gingis is adamant he can make a difference.

“We can still save this season. But they won’t give us a chance,” Mr Gingis said.

“I want to save this coming season, which I can. But they wouldn’t let me. I can still give them a lot of water not only in their dams but also in their catchments to stop these bushfires.

“This season will be horrendous. Brumby says it is his priority to reduce bushfire hazards, but unless it rains, they’ve got no hope. They can’t stop these bushfires with such dry forests.

“The cost of implementing it … would not be more than about $5 million,” Mr Gingis said.

Among supporters of cloud seeding include Nationals Federal Mallee MP John Forrest – who represents the driest part of the state – and is convinced cloud seeding works after travelling to Texas in 2002 to examine work there.

He produced a reportHarvesting the skies, backing the cloud seeding, and has repeatedly called for the establishment of a dedicated research centre doing similar work to successful trials in the Snowy Mountains, south-east Queensland and in Tasmania.

A project over the Victorian Alps, “could help our irrigators and our supply for the rivers in general”, Mr Forrest said.

The self-professed “parliamentary champion of cloud-seeding” says it has won strong support in some countries including the United States where its program uses Australian equipment and measuring gear, and China where an estimated 30,000 meterologists are involved in its program.

Even so, cloud seeding remains mired in debate over whether it was the seeding or just natural weather events that led to rain.

“It’s difficult to prove what’s been undertaken made a difference”, but the desperate lack of rain in parts of Victoria meant it should be given “the benefit of the doubt”, Mr Forrest said.

He believed said Mr Gingis’ claim to be able to dampen the bushfire threat was a “bold boast”, and despite winning a “fair hearing” in several forums – including a2007 Melbourne symposium – continuing doubts about the method were behind his failure.

But Mr Gingis said his company Australian Consolidated Management has been given short shrift by the Victorian Government and authorities including Melbourne Water and the DSE, and claims the CSIRO and weather bureau have swayed state bureaucrats away from the idea.

An attempt to be heard before the Bushfires Royal Commission was also refused, despite hisarguments being presented to the Canberra bushfires inquiry.

Mr Gingis says he is now losing his battle to apply the results pioneering Israeli research into cloud seeding.

The former Monash University researcher said his work over the past decade showed a strong link between air pollution in clouds – including bushfire smoke – and a lack of rain.

The research, using satellite analysis, shows less rain falls downwind of air pollution caused by city and industry, but his salty solution counteracts these effects.

The worst areas in Victoria are downwind of Melbourne, the La Trobe power station and Adelaide.

Emergency Services Minister Bob Cameron says his response to Mr Gingis has not changed since he responded to an approach in March.

At the time he said while the government was interested in keeping up-to-date with research, he pointed toVictoria’s position that finds that cloud seeding experiments have produced “mixed and often disputed results”.

He referred Mr Gingis to the Agriculture Minister who has responsibilities under the Rain-making Control Act and to theBushfire Cooperative Research Centre, which “could provide opportunities” for his work.

The Bushfire CRC’s partners include the CSIRO, weather bureau, universities, and national fire fighting services including the DSE and CFA.

It says it has not examined cloud-seeding proposals in any detail.

Centre spokesman David Bruce said the CRC was approached on an almost daily basis with “the solution” to fire threats, but it did not have extra money to pursue other research.

“After the Black Saturday fires we took on more research that was specific to the areas that were affected, so we now have a limited to capacity in the short term to take on further research into many of the ideas that have surfaced since those fires.”

Cloud-seeding trials have been conducted in Australia since 1947.

The most successful include one in the Snowy Mountains – which has boosted snowfall by 10 per cent – and in south-east Queensland with early reports a $7.5m trial now under way triggering bigger rain droplets and longer downpours.

Malcolm Turnbull has previously been caught up in the rain-making furore after handing nearly $10 million to theAustralian Rain Corporation in the midst of the 2007 election campaign to develop “rainfall enhancement technology”.

That was despite the “strong reservations” about the ATLANT technology by several national authorities.

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