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Fact-Check — Why are Nasa planes flying around the Western Cape? The reason is much less sinister than you think

Fact-Check — Why are Nasa planes flying around the Western Cape? The reason is much less sinister than you think
A new biodiversity research project, BioSCape, will link data collected from Nasa satellites and aeroplanes with field observations to better understand the biodiversity of the Greater Cape Floristic Region, impact of climate change on biodiversity, and nature’s contributions to people. 20 October 2023. (Photo: Shelley Christians)

A video which went viral on social media in recent days has questioned why aeroplanes from Nasa, the American space agency, have been tracked flying back and forth over the Western Cape in a kind of tight spiral pattern in recent weeks. What are they doing? What do they want with us? We checked the facts.

The viral video is set to a particular suspenseful music soundtrack which is often used on TikTok to signal that the content you’re about to see explores some kind of alarming conspiracy or unexplained mystery. And indeed, in the comments on this video, you will see hundreds and hundreds of South Africans speculating about the reason Nasa is apparently circling South Africa’s airspace.

In particular, people are very keen to link these mysterious flights to the weather, and to the phenomenon of “cloud seeding”. To quote one commenter “Makes sense: cloud seeding. No wonder we have had violent storms that caused maximum damage”.

Two things. Firstly, cloud seeding does exist, and has been undertaken in South Africa in the past. What it basically refers to is injecting clouds with chemicals in order to induce rain, which could obviously be very helpful in cases of drought, though there’s actually relatively little evidence to suggest that it really works. But cloud seeding has become a preoccupation of conspiracy theorists who believe that the world’s governments are routinely manipulating the weather as part of a secret programme. That brings me to the second point.

Read more: Nasa turns its gaze from space to the Western and Eastern Cape in new biodiversity project

The changes in weather and climate patterns around the world in recent years have been so alarming that in a way it’s quite understandable that people would rather ascribe these shifts to sinister actions on the part of shadowy authorities rather than confront the reality of our looming climate catastrophe.

But in the case of Nasa flying over South Africa, let’s just all relax. Nasa is not here for cloud seeding, or experiments on unwitting South African participants, or anything else you’ll read in the comments section. Neither is it some kind of secret that Nasa is here.

Nasa is here as part of a biodiversity monitoring survey called Bioscape which has been a couple of years in the making. The Nasa planes are gathering data which will be combined with satellite intel and observations from the ground to grow our understanding of floral diversity in the Western Cape. It’s a major project drawing in a number of universities in the US and South Africa and it’s pretty cool. 

So no, the DA has not “sold Western Cape airspace to Nasa for weather modification”. We have enough real stuff to worry about — let’s take that one off our plate. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • John Patson says:

    So they are studying biodiversity by flying aircraft which burn two litres of kerosene a second up and down for hours? One way of reducing bio-diversity I suppose. And if there is less biodiversity they can go home earlier, yippee!

  • andrew farrer says:

    well, one of the tiktok idiots was actually correct when he said that climate change was “not due to natural phenomena” – exactly what intelligent people have been saying for decades!

    • Skinyela Skinyela says:

      1st Climate change denier:”there is no such thing as climate change”

      2nd climate change denier:”well, this is just a natural phenomenon that happens after every hundred or thousand years”

      Then when NASA planes circle the RSA airspace:both the 1st and 2nd climate deniers scream “Aha, this is what causes climate change!”

  • Bob Dubery says:

    They’re dropping chemtrails to make school children woke. Thus saving the WC Government a small fortune on consultancy fees.

    #youReadItHereFirst

  • Alley Cat says:

    The conspiracy theorists are a danger to society. If not for this, they would be amusing..

  • Kantilal Roopa says:

    Referencing S A Post Office, Mark Barnes made an offer to buy and retain staff. Can the Union bosses explain to the people losing jobs how their unreasonable demands have brought us to this point?

  • Mike Monson says:

    Darn, the conspiracy theorists just hate it when they’re faced with reality. What a weird bunch!

  • Theresa Avenant says:

    Can’t work out whether the comments so far are serious or whether they are “answering questions” QI style. 😀

  • Anton Louw says:

    Imagine running an operation that amounts to clandestine chemical warfare and forgetting to take the livery off the planes.

  • Sean McClymont says:

    There was also a conspiracy doing the rounds that the ANC were responsible for the recent floods through cloud seeding, because they wished to flood the tunnels under the Taal Monument and Table Mountain, because supposedly that is where the Stellenbosch Mafia keeps their gold, and it’s their money that is keeping the DA in power….

    It seems that your average Weskaap descendant of the people who failed the medical for the Groot Trek really needs less time posting pictures of their lunch to social media, less fynbos in their pipes, and a trip back to Grade 1 to learn how their opposable thumb should make them more intelligent than our primate cousins who didn’t climb out the trees all those years ago.

  • Jacqueline Hardick says:

    Amazing how so many of these so called conspiracy theories have proved true over time. According to various scientists; their is NO looming climate catastrophe. Only various nafarious agendas from sinister shadowy authorities? Only time will tell us the truth. In the meanwhile I am off to purchase some Blue Roof paint!!!! Oh & I think you will find that not a lot of folks will agree with your narrative. Just saying, you know, with our supposed free speech and all.

  • Jacqueline Hardick says:

    It’s amazing how many of these so called conspiracy theories have proved to be true over time! There is no looming climate catastrophe. This has been agreed by many Scientists and other countries. Only nafarious agendas from sinister shadowy authorities. I do not agree with your narrative. Watch the sale of blue roof paint increase. This comment will probably not be published as it will not resonate with your article. Well there’s freedom of thought & expression out the window right there! Define “real stuff” that’s a rather an insulating & condescending comment to make – news is supposed to be unbiased?

  • Iam Fedup says:

    A million times better to have NASA planes rather than Aeroflot or Air China.

  • Deon Botha-Richards says:

    As usual when commenting on weather it claimed that it’s changing and it’s alarming. And yet the latest IPCC reports show absolutely no trend in any types of weather events.

    The weather is not changing significantly and it’s definitely not getting worse or happening more frequently.

    I wish journalists would put references in for where they source these ridiculous claims.

  • Martin Smith says:

    Interesting but why the patronising tone? Makes us all feel cosy, smug and superior I suppose.

  • Sue Basler says:

    Wouldn’t trust anything from NASA, and why just the Western Cape? When vloud seeding the plane flies in the cloud. There are many pictures showing what looks like chemtrails from various people in the areas where they are supposedly cloud seeding – all when there are no clouds around.
    Mess with nature it will hit back.

  • plaatjiesl says:

    On the 3rd of December 2019 Lindiwe Sisulu made a presentation confirming that cloud seeding will be one of the processes used to combat the drought situation- I believe that cloud seeding is happening in the western cape – would like to know who have permission to do it as rain “disappear” on a regular basis in the SWELLENDAM region – that’s why we have these mystical rainbows appearing out of nowhere on the mountain side and the predicted rain disappear. If NASA is not doing it who then?

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