Pollution and weather

Why is weather always changing?  One day rain, one day bone-dry, the  next day stormy; why can’t things stay  the same? Why didn’t Hashem make  weather as predictable as the days of  the week and the months of the year  – rain on Sunday, shine on Tuesday,  a slight drizzle on Wednesday. That  way it would never rain on anyone’s  parade. 

In Sefer Iyov (37:11), Iyov’s friend,  Eliav, insists that irregular weather bears  witness to Hashem’s hashgacha pratis  when he tell Iyov: “Af bri yatriach av,  yafi tz anan oro,” “Even when the sky is  clear, He troubles the cloud, but the sun  disperses the cloud.”

As the Alshich comments, “If all  events followed a fixed routine, there  would be no proof of hashgacha pratis.  Imagine a day with a hot, dry wind  and a cloudless sky. The sky suddenly  becomes overcast with heavy rain  clouds. Then, just as suddenly, the sun  shines through dispersing the clouds…

Why should Hashem bring the clouds  if He never intended it to rain? …  No one can deny that this is a clear  manifestation of hashgacha pratis.”  By the end of the Nineteenth Century  scientists regarded the world as a giant  billiard table. Thinking that Man was  on the brink of solving the world’s  mysteries, savants questioned Eliav’s  “uncertainty” principle and argued that,  in theory, everything is predictable.

After all, all the atoms in existence  are really nothing more than an extra large  ultimate billiard table alive with  a gazillion interacting billiard balls. A  vast number of balls on a huge table to  be sure, but basically no different than  a billiard player extrapolating where his  ball will end up after knocking against  one or two balls in its path.

Just as such a player can calculate  where his balls will end up after a hefty  jab of his cue, so, regarding the whole of  existence, learn where the winds come  from and where they blow to, explore  the sea’s currents, and one day you’ll  easily predict whether next winter is  going to be wet or dry.

That was how people thought in the  early days of modern science. Since  then, new concepts and theories have  upset the applecart. On a sub-atomic  level, it is generally accepted that not  only is it practically impossible to  discover what protons and electrons  are up to due to their diminutive size,  but theoretically impossible as well.  No one will ever know whether any  particular particle is dancing ballet or  the kazatzka.

This is because of the “Uncertainty  Principle” discovered by Werner Karl  Heisenberg in 5687/1927. Heisenberg  argues that sub-atomic events cannot  be precisely measured even in principle  – no one can determine both where a  particle is located and how fast it is  moving even at the very moment this  is taking place. According to him, sub  atomic life is based on probabilities.  You can say that object x is probably at  place y moving at momentum z. But in  reality it might be ten miles away and  moving five times faster.

“Fine!” you might argue. “What  you are saying makes sense in the submicroscopic  quantum world. But in our  man-size world of reality things are  what they are. Swing a baseball bat at a  crystal vase and there is more than mere  probability that the vase will smash to  pieces!”

However, a famous scientific-paper  put out in 5732/1972 publicized the  concept that even macro-existence is  next to impossible to predict. Titled,

“Predictability: Does the Flap of a  Butterfl y’s Wings in Brazil set off  a Tornado in Texas?” this paper  explained that some earth systems are  so sensitive to initial conditions that the  slightest change at the onset can be the  difference between a quiet summer’s  day and a roaring tornado.

This strange idea known as Chaos  Theory splits the world of mathematics  into two kinds of equations; precisely  solvable “linear” equations and the  woolly realm of “non-linear” equations.  Long-term weather prediction comes  under the second category. 

A good example of the second  category is today’s pollution problem.  Pour smoke into one end of the  environment and you never know what  will come out the other end. People  didn’t always realize this. Since the  industrial revolution people have been  pouring an ever increasing amount  of smog into the atmosphere without  giving the matter a thought. China’s  present wave of prosperity is fueled  by the hugest smoke-fest in history  in a weltanschauung where economic  growth overrides everything.

There was a time when some  scientists felt good about clouds of  industrial smoke; they argued that  cutting off sunlight might offset global  warming. That was until the discovery  that some kinds of smoke make the  warming effect even more drastic.

To make things worse, the world  renowned Israeli meteorologist  (weather expert), Professor Daniel  Rosenfeld of the Hebrew University  of Yerushalayim, working in tandem  with Chinese scientists, discovered that  clouds of smog are drying out the world  even faster than global warming.

Studying fifty years of records  at Mount Hua in Central China, the  scientists found a direct correlation  between visibility and rainfall. Over the  previous 50 years, smog from industrial  development had decreased mountaintop  visibility from about 23 to 12 miles,  and during the same period, rainfall in  the area dropped by up to 50 percent.  Then this idea was put to the acid test.

Nine years ago, in the summer of  5748/1998, the giant tropical forests  of Kalimantan, Indonesia began going  up in smoke after lightning streaks  from giant monsoon clouds overhead  set them ablaze. Ironically, although  the clouds looked more monstrous  than usual, barely a drop of water was  falling to put the fires out.

Due to the emergency, the Moslem  Indonesian president felt it necessary  to call in the Israeli expert, Daniel  Rosenfeld, although, in order to not  hurt the sensitivities of Indonesia’s  largest Moslem population on earth he  had Rosenfeld fl own in to his private  airstrip instead of arranging his arrival  via a public airport. Using data from  NASA’s new TRMM (Tropical Rainfall  Measuring Mission) weather satellite,  Rosenfeld demonstrated that the source  of the problem was land developers  who were burning huge strips of jungle  hundreds of miles away.

From space, the satellite detected  that the places where rain wasn’t  falling were the precise locations of  giant smoke plumes drifting from  developers’ fires. Literally speaking, the  jungles’ clouds were choking to death.

This was the first visible evidence for  Rosenfeld’s theory that smog kills rain.

How does smog do this?  First, one needs to know how rain  falls. Clouds consist of drifting blankets  of water vapor too light to fall to earth.  The way some clouds work is that water  vapor collects around tiny chunks of ice  or dust and coalesces into raindrops.  The placid looking clouds work hard as  it takes about a million water droplets  to create a one millimeter-sized big  raindrop.

This coalescing procedure known  as the Bergeron Process is the secret  behind cloud seeding, which Israel has  been practicing since 6721/1961 in a  desperate attempt to combat the dry  country’s decreasing rain. By scattering  billions of silver iodide particles inside  rain clouds, tiny water drops have more  particles to cling to resulting in up to  fifteen percent more rain.

How does pollution interfere with  the raindrop forming process? When  clouds become filled with tiny smoke  particles, water vapor attaches to them  and forms tiny droplets that are too  small and light to fall down. The result  – giant clouds choked to the brim with  useless dwarf-raindrops. Overall, this  can result in a 15 to 20 percent rain  reduction. 

However, at the same time that  Rosenfeld was doing his research in  China and elsewhere, other scientists  were investigating the growing  complaint of many Americans and  Europeans that it always seems to  rain more over weekends. Was this a  psychological reaction of disgruntled  football fanatics, or was this a true  phenomenon, which would be strange,  as besides the Sambatyon River, which  Chazal tell us, ceases to flow every  seven days to publicize the kedusha of  Shabbos, there are no natural phenomena  that relate to a seven day cycle.

In the end, it turned out that  the problem was no figment of the  imagination. The cause of weekend  rain was smog and pollution that were  causing a 22% higher chance of rain over  weekends in places like the US Eastern  Seaboard. The way it works is that from  Monday to Friday, factories and cars  pour out a black blanket that reaches a  crescendo by the end of the week. These  billions of particles drift into the clouds  and provide more particles to which the  water droplets cling.

Of course, this diametrically  contradicts Rosenfeld’s assertion that  small particles restrict rain production,  and this led to the following summary  of a lecture delivered in a forum of  atmospheric sciences last year:

“We emphasize that once the  precipitation cycle is altered in clouds by  varying amounts of CCN, GCCN, and  IN concentrations, the cloud responses  can be very nonlinear [italics added].

Thus in some cases precipitation is  decreased with increasing aerosols and  others it is increased.”

In other words, smog sometimes  increases rain and sometimes decreases  it. Why? No one knows exactly. This is  our old friend the non-linear equation  in action – like so many aspects of the  weather, man’s damaging interference,  too, is non-linear and chaotic.  The bottom line: The world is a  delicate place. Monkey with the system  and as fast as you solve one problem  you stumble into another.

(Alshich citation: Allen, Ben.  A Celestial Challenge. New York:  Feldheim Publishers, 1996.)

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