Beijing: In an effort to fully orchestrate the glittering pageantry of Friday night’s Olympic opening ceremonies, the Chinese are trying to control mother nature and clear the skies overhead.
From traffic restrictions designed to reduce pollution to manicured grounds throughout the city, little has been left to chance. And during a packed press conference on Wednesday at the Beijing International Media Center, that thoroughness was on full display as the country’s top meteorologists discussed weather forecasting and weather modification for more than an hour.
Worrying sight: Haze fills the sky outside a temporary monument to the Beijing Olympics at Tiananmen Square in Beijing on Monday. (Photograph by Bernardo De Niz / Bloomberg)
“We can say we have already mastered the available rain reduction technologies in the world,” said the director of China’s Meteorological Administration, Yu Xinwen, through a translator. “We have invited experts from Russia to give us guidance on this aspect. To do a good job in this aspect, we need exploration and time.... will we try it in the run-up to the Olympic Games? That will be determined by the weather and the needs of sport events.”
The forecast calls for partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the mid-70s. If all goes as predicted, neither rain nor hazy pollution will ruin the show. If not, the Chinese cloud physicists may resort to seeding clouds with chemicals to alter rain patterns before the ceremony, then herald relatively clear skies as a scientific triumph.
With recent smog filled days blurring views of the National “Bird’s Nest” Stadium and scattered thunderstorms originally forecast for the remainder of this week, Chinese meteorologists face even more obstacles to success.
Leading up to the Olympics, the Chinese conducted cloud seeding experiments and developed a two-pronged weather modification plan. They would create rain to wash out pollution in areas away from Olympic venues. They would also prevent rain around the stadium to provide a perfect backdrop for the ceremonies.
Cloud seeding, long used in dry areas to bring on rain, involves injecting silver iodide into clouds using rockets, artillery shells or planes. The iodide disperses into the clouds and forms ice crystals. The ice crystals change into rain drops and fall from the clouds. But since cloud structure varies greatly depending on temperature, humidity, and pollution levels, there is no guarantee it will work in Beijing.
The Chinese also believe they can prevent rain by overloading clouds with iodide and ice crystals. With ice crystals competing for limited water vapour in the clouds, the crystals will be too small to fall as rain. But experts in cloud seeding are skeptical Chinese efforts will make any difference.
“The problem is that the weather systems they have in Beijing are too large and too complex,” said Zev Levin, professor emeritus of atmospheric physics at Tel Aviv University.
Scientists have explored the potential benefits of cloud seeding since the mid-1940s. China did not begin upgrading its cloud seeding technology until five years ago.
All the positive talk about the “Green Olympics” by Chinese officials at the heavily air-conditioned press conference was a marked contrast to the muggy, hazy air outside.
“It’s a very superficial way of dealing with a problem that has roots that are much deeper,” said Guy Brasseur, atmospheric chemist and pollution specialist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. “If you can make rain, you can probably improve certain aspects of the pollution, but the improvement is going to be intermittent and limited in time and space.”
As much as the Chinese want to control mother nature during the Beijing Games, they say they may not achieve it. They can revoke visas and send human rights protesters home, but the rain and haze may be here to stay. ©2008/The New York Times