Cloud ‘bioseeding’ set to revolutionize weather and biological diversity

Seed Science Solves Seedling Soil Stress with Sopping Storms

CORVALLIS, OR – April 1, 2024.  An innovative method for controlling the weather is underway in Oregon.  Researchers have made significant advances in the technology of cloud bioseeding to coax precipitation from the atmosphere with living biological particles.

A plan dropping seeds on a cloud

Traditional approaches to cloud seeding, as it is often called, have previously focused on dropping silver iodide or dry ice from aircraft into clouds to provide nuclei for precipitation to form, thus increasing moisture on the ground where its most needed.  But these approaches have had mixed success and unintended environmental impacts.

Today collaborating scientists from multiple laboratories report in the journal Rapid Communications in Climate and Weather their remarkable success using plant seeds and spores injected into clouds to initiate rain and snow events.  “We are extremely excited by this new methodology to increase precipitation over landscapes, especially those experiencing drought,” said lead author Nathaniel Pluvia, professor of bioclimatology at Oregon Agricultural College.

The method has the dual benefit of increasing rain and snowfall where needed as well as spreading seeds of plants for habitat rehabilitation across entire landscapes.  Termed by some as “green rain,” the technique can be adapted to a variety of ecological environments.

“We’re finding that plants with tiny seeds or spores work most efficiently to promote ice nucleation inside atmospheric clouds, and the species selected can be adjusted to match specific biomes,” noted a study coauthor, April Semilla, from the Institute for Applied Ecology in Corvallis, Oregon.

Their publication reports over 100 successful applications where the miniscule seeds of orchids were used to bioseed clouds and produce rain over tropical rainforests, spores of native ferns and mosses induced snow over temperate forests, and small-seeded grasses improved moisture over large expanses of prairie.

Up to now, simply broadcasting seeds over clouds had delivered disappointing results, but the breakthrough came last year when the team tested a new approach based on aerial seed-drilling into cloud surfaces to improve seed-cloud contact.

“Drilling seeds into furrows on the cloud surface was a game changer,” said Pluvia.  “The seeds and spores almost immediately absorbed moisture and formed droplets around them.”

“To our surprise, we also found examples where the seeds germinated very quickly, so that the descending ‘green rain’ contained living seedlings that were ‘planted’ into the soil upon impact,” added Semilla.  “And one airline pilot reported passing by huge meadows of grass and wildflowers atop the updrafts in bioseeded cumulonimbus cloud formations.”

A cloud with seedlings growing on it and raining from it.

“Occasionally bioseeded clouds can contain so many seedlings that they resemble Chia Pets,” said Pluvia.  “You know, those silly pottery things with seedlings growing all over them?”

The researchers are planning agricultural applications in which soybean, rice, and corn can be bioseeded directly into clouds over farm fields, then fall with green rain as self-planting seedlings, giving food production a major global boost with lower tillage costs.  Professors Semilla and Pluvia agree that “from native plants to food, we’re almost sure this will save the world, one wet seed at a time.  At least one wacky day a year.”




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