Written by Ashleigh Mulder

Cloud seeding is the modification of weather with the purpose or intent to change the amount or type of precipitation that falls from clouds.[1] This process of modifying weather patterns through the introduction of substances into the atmosphere has been practiced in different parts of the world for over 70 years, with it most commonly practiced in the UAE, China, and The United States.[2]

Cloud seeding is a controversial practice that has gained both support and opposition to its use. Its practices are beneficial in mitigating the effects of droughts and floods, respectively increasing or decreasing the amount of rainfall in the area.[3] However, cloud seeding is also linked with many adverse impacts such as the depletion of water, erosion of soil, air pollution, and geopolitical conflicts.[4] To address the concerns of these environmental and social impacts, various international and national legal frameworks have been developed to ensure the regulation of cloud seeding practices while promoting outcomes that are both sustainable and equitable.

Yet, these legal frameworks face considerable challenges – especially in regard to their scope, enforcement, and coordination – as cloud seeding often crosses international borders and involves multiple stakeholders with different interests.[5]


The concept of cloud seeding dates back to the early 20th century with the first experiment of cloud seeding being attributed to Vincent Schaefer in 1946 – this experiment consisted of the use of dry ice in order to stimulate snowfall.[6]

In the years that followed, it gained traction as a tool for the potential control and modification of weather. The cold war and the desire to control the weather for military purposes, especially by the United States of America in the late 60s and early 70s, influenced a surge of interest in cloud seeding.[7] Both governments and private entities globally invested in the concepts of research and development – launching various experimental programs such as Project Stormfury, launched by the USA in the late 1960s, and Snowy Hydro, launched by an Australian company in the 1950s.[8]

Cloud seeding has always been a controversial form of technology with its efficiency and impacts often being questioned. One of its most notable controversies – sparking the drafting and implementation of the UNGA Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques – was the technologies used by US Military to disrupt enemy supply chains.[9] This was achieved by creating floods and landslides during the Vietnam War (Operation Sober Popeye; its existence was acknowledged by the US in 1971).[10]

Cloud seeding is still practiced today by countries around the world with many opting to incorporate it into their regular watercourse management. However, cloud seeding remains the topic of ongoing debate and research with its role in the mitigation of climate change largely unclear. In recent years, concerns have also risen about its potential use to intensify existing water scarcity issues and contribute to global conflicts.[11]


Cloud seeding has been associated with a range of both environmental and social impacts that draw concern from policymakers to scientists. These impacts consist of water depletion, soil erosion, air pollution, and geopolitics, to name a few.

The depletion of water is one of the most significant impacts that cloud seeding has on the environment.[12] This is due to its ability to exacerbate water scarcity and the potential for water contamination with the chemicals used in the seeding process.[13] This can result in adverse effects not only for those in the region but also along the same watercourses and nearby areas.

Soil erosion and air pollution are other environmental impacts brought on by the process. The process of introducing substances (like Silver Iodide) into the atmosphere can allow for the deposition of particles that contribute to air pollution – having harmful effects on both human life and wildlife.[14] Moreover, the materials used for cloud seeding can result in an increase in soil erosion,[15] due to the soil absorbing the moisture from the air. The environmental impacts of cloud seeding highlight the importance of considering the consequences of the practice and its impact on surrounding areas.

Cloud seeding can also lead to geopolitics – one of the few social impacts. Cloud seeding in geopolitics was seen by the USA for the purpose of military strategy – whereby they increased the chance of floods (by influencing the rain in the region) to delay the Vietnamese army and encourage the displacement of both troops and civilians.[16]

These adverse impacts spurred by cloud seeding highlight the importance and need for effective regulation of the practice to ensure sustainability alongside safety. Hence,  legal Frameworks implemented both nationally and globally have attempted to address the concerns raised by these impacts.


Both International and National frameworks have been established in order to regulate cloud seeding while promoting sustainable outcomes. The purpose of these frameworks is to find an equilibrium between the benefits of cloud seeding and its potential environmental and social impact.

At an international level, Article 5 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses recognizes the right of states to use transboundary watercourses for cloud seeding. However, the provision also obliges them to ensure that the seeding does not cause significant harm to the environment of other states sharing the same watercourse.[17] Article 7 of the Convention on Biological Diversity and its Nagoya Protocol requires parties to ensure their process of seeding does not cause any impact on biodiversity.[18] Furthermore, the article requires parties to gain consent from local communities prior to the commencement of seeding.[19] Additionally, Article 2 of the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution regulates the emission and transport of air pollutants as a result of cloud seeding.[20]

At a national level, The US Weather Modification Act establishes a regulatory framework for cloud seeding. This includes the requirement of obtaining permits from the relevant state agencies and complying with both environmental and safety standards.[21] The Chinese Regulation on Weather Modification sets forth similar rules while requiring that any adverse effects caused by cloud seeding be minimized.[22]

However, these legal frameworks face challenges in their implementation, enforcement, and coordination. These challenges are particularly with regard to cross-border cloud seeding activities and the involvement of multiple stakeholders having conflicting interests.


One of the foremost challenges to seeding is the lack of a universal definition for cloud seeding.[23] The lack of a universal definition for the notion can result in inconsistency with regard to the interpretation and regulation of these frameworks. Additionally, the results of cloud seeding are often transnational and involve various stakeholders with differing interests, which makes the coordination and effective enforcement of regulations difficult.[24]

Another challenge presented is the difficulty of accurately assessing the environmental and social impacts of the process.[25] Despite the conflicting opinions regarding the impact of seeding, the lack of standardized monitoring and evaluation system for cloud seeding programs makes it challenging to truly determine the overall effectiveness and impact of the processes. In addition, the funding and resources available for cloud seeding programs differ between jurisdictions and stakeholders.[26]

Lastly, the nature in which cloud seeding technology and practices are rapidly evolving reveals a challenge for legal frameworks.[27] As new methods are further developed and tested, regulations may struggle to match the pace of these advancements – potentially leading to oversights and gaps.

Overall, despite regulatory frameworks providing an important foundation for the regulation of cloud seeding, addressing the above challenges and limitations will require there to be a presence of collaboration and coordination among the stakeholders. There is also a need for continued efforts for the improvement of monitoring, evaluation, and enforcement mechanisms.

In conclusion, the practice of cloud seeding is a controversial practice that comes with both benefits and consequences. While it can mitigate the effects of droughts and floods, it can also cause the depletion of water, erosion of the soil, pollution of the air, and geopolitics. In an attempt to address environmental and social concerns, various frameworks – both domestic and international – have been developed to regulate cloud seeding. However, these frameworks face significant challenges in regard to their enforcement and coordination, due to the involvement of multiple stakeholders across international borders. Hence, it is crucial to continue researching and discussing the significance of cloud seeding while also ensuring proper and transparent regulations of this practice.

[1] Dennis, Arnett, ‘Weather Modification by Cloud Seeding’ (USU, 1980). Reports. Paper 670.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Roelof T Bruintjes, ‘A Review of Cloud Seeding Experiments to Enhance Precipitation and Some New Prospects’ (1999) 80 Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society 805.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Wehbe Y, ‘Looking to the Skies: The Growing Interest in Cloud Seeding Technology in the Gulf’ (Middle East Institute) accessed 1 May 2023.

[6] Dennis, Arnett, ‘Weather Modification by Cloud Seeding’ (USU, 1980). Reports. Paper 670.

[7] Novak M, ‘Weather Control as a Cold War Weapon’ (Smithsonian, 5 December 2011) accessed 3 May 2023.

[8] Roelof T Bruintjes, ‘A Review of Cloud Seeding Experiments to Enhance Precipitation and Some New Prospects’ (1999) 80 Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society 805.

[9] Hersh S, ‘Rainmaking Is Used as Weapon by U.S.’ (The New York Times, 3 July 1972) accessed 5 May 2023.

[10] Ibid.

[11] ‘Is Manipulating the Weather an Answer to Water Scarcity?’ (Enterprise, 1 June 2021) accessed 5 May 2023.

[12] Dennis, Arnett, ‘Weather Modification by Cloud Seeding’ (USU, 1980). Reports. Paper 670.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Akshi Kunwar Singh, B Abhijith and Leelakant Dewangan, ‘Safety Concerns and Consequences of Cloud Seeding Implications—A Systematic Review’ in NA Siddiqui and others (eds), Advances in Waste Management (Springer Nature 2023).

[15] Ibid.

[16] Hersh S, ‘Rainmaking Is Used as Weapon by U.S.’ (The New York Times, 3 July 1972) accessed 5 May 2023.

[17] UNGA Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses (adopted 21 May 1997, entered into force 17 August 2014) A/RES/49/52, art 5.

[18] Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization to the Convention on Biological Diversity (adopted 29 October 2010, entered into force 12 October 2014), art 7.

[19] Geneva Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution (adopted 13 November 1979, entered into force 16 March 1983), art 2.

[20] Ibid.

[21] National Weather Modification Policy Act, Pub. L. No. 94-490, 90 Stat. 2359 (1976).

[22] ‘Laws’ <http://www.npc.gov.cn/zgrdw/englishnpc/Law/2007-12/14/content_1384183.htm> accessed 7 May 2023.

[23] Jessica McKenzie, ‘Dodging Silver Bullets: How Cloud Seeding Could Go Wrong’ (Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 11 August 2022) <https://thebulletin.org/2022/08/dodging-silver-bullets-how-cloud-seeding-could-go-wrong/> accessed 9 May 2023.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Alan W Witt, ‘Seeding Clouds of Uncertainty’ (2016) 57 Jurimetrics 105.

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