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Jakarta Post

Govt to create artificial rain in Riau to prevent wildfires

  • Rizal Harahap

    The Jakarta Post

Pekanbaru   /   Thu, March 12, 2020   /   10:41 am
Govt to create artificial rain in Riau to prevent wildfires People try to extinguish forest fires in Pekanbaru, Riau. Fires razed the area in mid- January 2017. (Antara/Rony Muharman)

The government has launched a weather modification technology (TMC) program to create artificial rain in Riau in an attempt to prevent forest fires with the region entering dry season.

The program will be administered by the Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology Agency (BPPT), which has designated Resmin Nurjadin Air Force base in Pekanbaru as the WMT program command center in the area.

BPPT’s TMC agency head, Tri Handoko Seto, said he had deployed teams to Riau after the governor declared the emergency alert status for land and forest fires in the province.

"Our goal is to turn potentials of clouds into rain,” Tri said during the operation opening ceremony in Pekanbaru on Wednesday.

“The operation is carried out to prevent forest fires in Riau. According to our data, the number of hot spots usually increases in march and will reach its peak in between August and September.”

Read also: Police chief in Riau fired for lackluster performance in handling forest fires

He further explained that the artificial rain could also be used to wet peatland across the province. Research by various institutions found that most areas burned by wildfires were, among others, peatland.

Dry peat is more susceptible to wildfires compared to the wetter ones; therefore, its water level needs to be continuously monitored as it can become susceptible to fires.

“Our TMC operation will also focus on rewetting fire-prone peatland. If we can maintain their water level, we can reduce wildfires in the area,” he said.

The artificial rain could also help fill reservoirs designated as water sources to extinguish forest and land fires, Tri went on to say.

Another TMC agency official, Budi Haryono, said his office had developed an online monitoring system to detect peatland water levels, known as SMOKIES. The platform was created as an early warning system for forest fires.

Read also: Indonesia faces gigantic task of restoring peatland destroyed by fire

SMOKIES gathers data from automatic weather station (AWS) and ultrasonic sensors across the province to measure the water level on peatland. “The two instruments can be used to analyze water levels in peatland up to 1.5 meters deep. The data will be transmitted in real time to BPPT servers every hour,” Budi said.

"We need to increase the number of SMOKIES instruments in forest fire-prone provinces so we can collect sufficient data."

Forest and land fires have been raging in several areas in Riau. The fires have caused thin smog covering Dumai, lowering visibility in the city to 2 kilometers. The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG), however, claimed it was unable to trace the source of the smog.

Haze also covered Bengkalis island in Bengkalis regency, with an intensity increase on Tuesday night but having gradually decreased the next day. Authorities have spotted several hot spots in Bengkalis over the last several days. (nal)