The Israel Science Foundation (ISF) and the National Science Foundation of China (NSFC) recently awarded a grant for a collaborative project with IDC’s Dean of the School of Sustainability, Prof. Yoav Yair, and Professor Xiushu Qie of the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Atmospheric Physics. The project is titled, “Urban effects on lightning: a comparative study of Tel-Aviv and Beijing thunderstorms using lightning detection networks and numerical models.”
Yair comes from a background in physics, but he readily attributes the field of sustainability to social science, and at the IDC the approach is especially an interdisciplinary one. “Sustainability is a way of life. You cannot do things without considering the consequences that they have.” He speaks optimistically of the younger generation and their regard for social responsibility which is influencing environmental policies. The project with China has sustainability at its core because it concerns the environmental effects of a large metropolitan regions on the atmosphere and lightning properties. His partner, professor Xiushu Qie, is a famous scientist in atmospheric electricity and lightning research in China, and the editor of a major science journal (“Atmospheric Research”), where Yair has published several papers. Their common research interests naturally evolved into a collaborative project.
Lightning will be closely monitored with special antennas in Israel and in the Beijing area. Using GPS time-based technology that accurately measures lightening with a time-resolution of microseconds, it will be possible to reconstruct the path that the lightning took, and re-compute that trajectory back to where it originated to predict future lightning behavior. They will also study the meteorology of the given lightning episodes – what were the clouds like? As well as the environmental data – what was the level of pollution? The particles in the atmosphere affect the microphysics of clouds, which in turn change the electrical properties of lightning.
Large urban areas emit a lot of pollution and produce a huge amount of heat because of concrete and asphalt. Combined with the flow of moisture and the movement of wind, all those activities interfere with thunderclouds and lightning. The two cities in the study have different levels of pollution and the goal is to understand exactly what effect this fact has on the properties of lightning flashes. Aside from the observational data that will come from this research, lightning will also be simulated with a computer model to predict the potential for its occurrence within the next six hours. This is important because lightning is always associated with other severe weather phenomena, such as hail, flash floods, tornados and fierce winds. This capability to issue short range forecasts is called Nowcasting, as opposed to the more standard approach of forecasting the weather for the next twenty-four hours or longer. Mapping the fingerprints the two cities have on lightning can have critical implication for disaster prevention efforts.