Prof. Ilan Koren: Since humans have been emitting smoke, gases, sulphites and carbon, by a much larger order of magnitude, the properties of clouds have changed.If climate change wasn’t already on the international agenda, then the decision to award this year’s Nobel Prize for Peace to Al Gore and the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) has certainly placed the issue on the consciousness of the world.
Gore’s persuasive Oscar-winning documentary, An Inconvenient Truth presents a wealth of scientific data to show that humans are largely responsible for global warming and also highlights some of the devastating consequences that this change in climate could bring.
While some skeptics have criticized the film as exaggerated, at least one Israeli scientist is thankful that Gore spoke out. Dr. Ilan Koren, a senior scientist in the department of Environmental Science at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, is one of several Israeli scientists and researchers who have been working for years on monitoring and evaluating the effects of the Earth’s climatic shift.
“He did a very good job,” said Koren. “[The film] will have the largest impact in the field of climate change, instead of the hundreds of detailed scientific studies. The film found the right balance between being a popular movie, and not exaggerating the evidence.”
Koren’s major area of research is studying the roles that clouds and precipitation play in the balance of energy within the earth’s eco-system, and how they are both affected by smoke and aerosol pollution. He starts his research from the assertion that clouds are the only vehicle for bringing fresh water to land, and that any alteration to the precipitation will affect the water cycle.
“Clouds are involved in earth’s radiation budget,” Koren told ISRAEL21c. “Without them, more of the solar energy would be absorbed on the surface and there would immediately be a warmer atmosphere.”
“Aerosols have always been emitted in the atmosphere. But since humans have been emitting smoke, gases, sulphites and carbon, by a much larger order of magnitude, the properties of clouds have changed, and there are more droplets with a different size distribution. This creates a different chain of feedback to the eco-system,” he added.
Koren, who worked closely with the late Yoram Kaufman, a NASA-based senior scientist and Technion graduate, uses advanced technology to measure droplets in all types of cloud worldwide.
“Within a pristine environment, an ocean-covering cloud would have 200 droplets per cubic centimeter. In a polluted environment, it could have 2,000 in the same cubic centimeter,” said Koren.
“The cloud will live longer, precipitate less, and give less solar reflection: this will affect the water budget and the energy budget of the atmosphere.”
Having studied clouds in the Amazon for 20 years, Koren has found, and is publishing the evidence, that increased biomass burning is damaging the natural cloud cover over the region, loading up the clouds with smoke pollutant, and changing the annual precipitation patterns. Within the period 2000 and 2005, biomass burning increased 50% overall.
In 2006, scientific monitoring and government legislation dramatically reduced the man-made fires in the region. Koren is optimistic that using this data, legislation and cultural change can slowly improve human health, the rain forest and the climate system, locally in the Amazon, and then systemically, worldwide.
According to another key Israeli researcher in climatic change, Professor Pinhas Alpert, head of Tel Aviv University’s department of Geophysics and Planetary Sciences, countries in the Middle East have already started seeing more extreme weather.
“Our data gathered from the last 40 years and with projections to 2050, show that winters here are becoming warmer, with much less precipitation annually, and these extreme temperatures, at the minimum and maximum ends of the scale, also show a greater fluctuation between them,” he told ISRAEL21c.
Alpert has initiated several key research projects that encompass the entire Mediterranean basin, and link in with European scientists. One of these, the GLOWA Project, is in its sixth year of operation as a cooperative effort between Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Jordan, and Germany. Other work includes cooperation with the UK Meteorological Office, and as the head of the Israel node of the NASA Space Agency.
“We can now say, with much more confidence, gained from using the most modern tools available, that we can forecast changing weather patterns for this region,” Alpert says. The worst scenario, he says, is A2, which includes rising sea levels, an increased number of extreme weather events, rising temperatures, and lower rainfall in some areas. The A2 scenario will occur, he explains, if there is no adherence to the Kyoto Protocol of 1997, and humanity doesn’t change its polluting habits.
One of the clearest ways Israelis will notice the change, according to Alpert, is in the reduction of snowfall. “The snowfall that occurred in Jerusalem, at least once every three years, will disappear. People will be touched by this.”
Alpert is slated to be on a panel defending Gore’s film at a conference this month entitled ‘Global Warming – fact or fiction and how to fix it?’ at the Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem.
“There are skeptics here,” Alpert said, speaking of his upcoming participation, “but in general I feel Gore absolutely gets the message across.”
The conference is planned to be both an academic debate, and a discussion between representatives of NGO’s and government as to what the response to climate change has been so far, and how the development of the A2 ‘worst case scenario’, as mentioned by Alpert, could be avoided through immediate legislation and social change.
With the Synthesis Report, the final part of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report due to be published at a press conference on November 17, and many believing that it will contain evidence that indicates humanity is veering toward the A2 scenario mentioned by Alpert and demonstrated in the film An Inconvenient Truth, the research being conducted in Israel takes on even greater significance.