UND’s rainmaker lands funding

David Delene to help the private sector improve weather-modification products for optimizing cloud precipitation, reducing hail

David Delene

David Delene, a UND atmospheric scientist, recently was awarded funding from North Dakota’s Centers of Excellence Commission (COE) to further improve understanding of how precipitation develops in clouds. His work could lead to more effective cloud seeding applications to reduce hail, enhance rain and conduct snow augmentation in parts of the world that need it. Photo by Shawna Schill.

David Delene is a cloud tinkerer.

He’s a rainmaker, a hail stopper and a drought’s worst nightmare rolled into one. His research provides a better understanding of Mother Nature for the benefit of society. 

To augment his research, Delene, a UND atmospheric scientist, recently was awarded funding from North Dakota’s Centers of Excellence Commission (COE) to further improve understanding of how precipitation develops in clouds. His work could lead to more effective cloud-seeding applications to reduce hail, enhance rain and conduct snow augmentation in parts of the world that need it.

Delene will use the COE funding to partner with Fargo-based Weather Modification International (WMI) and Ice Crystal Engineering (ICE) of Kindred, N.D., private-sector leaders in weather modification and pyrotechnic cloud-seeding research, respectively, to evaluate ice nuclei produced by ground generators and cloud-seeding flares.

Ultimately, the project is expected to gauge the effectiveness of seeding flares produced by ICE and possibly facilitate development of new products in the future.

The companies will tap into Delene’s years of research and expertise on clouds and their precipitation processes in hopes of more effectively getting the right amount of rain to the right spots and reducing the likelihood of hazardous hail events altogether.

“This is a good project that we’re conducting,” Delene said. “It has really good theoretical and practical aspects to it.”

Right amount

The project will investigate how ice nuclei, produced by current methods, impact micro-structures inside of clouds. Ice nuclei are used to catalyze the formation of ice particles in clouds.

The National Science Foundation’s “Pi (π) Cloud Chamber” at Michigan Technological University (Michigan Tech) in Houghton, where Delene received his undergraduate and master’s degrees, will be used for the actual evaluation experiments.

Delene will help the companies develop a dilution system that introduces ice-nucleating particles at concentration levels that are low enough so as to not contaminate the Pi Cloud Chamber.

“We are designing this injection system so we can use the cloud chamber,” Delene said. “The biggest thing is concentration or the amount that’s injected. These (flares) put out a lot of particles and we would contaminate their chamber and make it useless until it was thoroughly cleaned.”

Delene said tests will be done on the lower-concentration injection system before taking it on to the cloud chamber at Michigan Tech.

Benefits galore

UND’s Department of Atmospheric Sciences has a strong track record of working with private industry on research projects. It was announced earlier this week that UND has sold its Cessna Citation II weather research aircraft to WMI and expanded worldwide research partnerships with that company. The new partnerships would involve educational opportunities for students.

Delene described clouds as factories for producing snow or rain.

“We can’t do anything if the factory is not there,” he said.

In addition to helping the private-sector companies improve their product lines, the research will provide opportunities to address other fundamental questions about cloud processes, Delene said.

The benefits of their work could be enormous for a number of industries, from agriculture to tourism and recreation.

Droughts are often caused by low mountain snowpacks in the winter, Delene explained. Increasing rain amounts would help crops thrive, and the enhancement of snowfall in higher elevations produces greater snowpacks that will, in turn, provide life-giving water runoff in the spring and summer in lower elevations.

More snow also could also create a stronger bottom line for ski resorts and other water recreation businesses.