One thing about the United Arab Emirates is that they like to think big -- whether it's building the world's tallest structure, the 2,716-foot-tall Burj Khalifa skyscraper, or dredging 90 million square feet of rock, soil and sand to create the Palm Jumeirah, an artificial island archipelago whose fronds can be seen from space. It's the sort of place where they put an indoor ski slope inside a apartment tower so massive that it will provide homes for 78,000 people.
But even those supersized projects may be dwarfed by what reportedly may be the UAE's next really big thing - an artificial mountain, large enough to alter weather patterns and increase rainfall.
The news website Arabian Business reports that the Middle Eastern nation is contemplating construction of a man-made peak, and that experts from the U.S.-based University Corporation for Atmospheric Research are working on a modeling study to determine how high and what sort of slope would be required to influence the weather.
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A mountain can help to cause rainfall, because its presence alters winds and causes them to lift air containing evaporation upward, which promotes cloud formation. Those clouds, in turn, can be seeded to stimulate precipitation. Over the past decade, UCAR has been involved in a massive weather-modification project in Wyoming, which involves seeding clouds over the Medicine Bow, Sierra Madre and Wind River mountain ranges in an effort to boost snowfall by 10 percent.
However, as UCAR weather modification researcher Roelof Bruintjes told Arabian Business: "Building a mountain isn't a simple thing."
To the contrary, planetary engineering on that scale is something that so far only exists in the imagination of visionaries. Back in 2009, German architect Jakob Tigges proposed building a 3,280-foot artificial mountain called The Berg on the outskirts of Berlin to create recreation for urban dwellers and a wildlife habitat. That project never got beyond the drawing board.
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The sheer scale of a mountain would make for a daunting construction project. Japan's 12,338-foot-tall Mount Fuji, for example, is estimated to weigh about 1 trillion tons. Where builders would get enough raw material to create something that enormous remains unclear. Building it from artificial materials might require as much as one-quarter of the world's 2015 concrete output.
Also, in addition to promoting rainfall in some areas, mountains also can inhibit rainfall, though the rain shadow effect. That means that the land on the wrong side of an artificial mountain might become even more parched.