Roman Vilfand: «Lack of Water Can Change Policy of Many Countries»

Roman Vilfand, the Director of the Hydrometeorological Center of Russia, the author of over 150 scientific papers, knows all about the weather. He's told us about how the ocean will help meteorologists, and why we should conserve water, especially in the context of climate change.

Is it possible to predict weather for more than two weeks? Never ever. No daytime and nighttime temperatures, no precipitation. The atmosphere is a chaotic system. It is possible to find a certain vector in the simulation of the processes, but still a factor of chaos will always be present. More than 50 years ago, after the publication of the famous work of Edward Lorenz, a lot has changed both for meteorologists, and for philosophers. He described "the butterfly effect", the essence of which is that sometimes the flapping of the butterfly wings is enough to change the atmosphere. It used to be thought that the more people learn about atmospheric processes, the more accurately they describes it in equations of mathematical physics, the closer they are to predict the elements of weather for an arbitrarily long period of time. But it turned out unfortunately that two weeks later, the task of weather forecast is incorrect in the mathematical sense: solution of the system of equations don't depend on the initial data. It is impossible to guess where the butterfly will flap its wings. But now meteorologists give sufficiently reliable predictions for 5-7 days. We hope that after 40-50 years, this period will increase to two weeks.

There are things absolutely unpredictable. We can specify a large enough region, a hundred per hundred kilometers, where a hurricane or a tornado will appear, but at what point is cannot be determined. One of the physicists has led a good comparison: when the kettle starts boiling, it is impossible to indicate precisely the localization of the first air bubble. And it would never be possible. Therefore in meteorology theirs is a developing direction, which is called nowcasting, it highlights the region where it may be a dangerous phenomenon, and then starts amplified monitoring of the region with the help of satellites and radars. As soon as a tornado occurs, it will be possible to indicate where it will move.

On the Internet there are hundreds of weather sites. Which one to choose? When it comes to Russia, "Roshydromet", of course, produces the most accurate forecasts. After all, only this service is studying the atmosphere and the weather forecast in our country. In addition, we are in very close contacts with colleagues from abroad. World meteorological organization facilitates the exchange of data between national meteorological services, we have no conflicts, no contradictions, we are all interested in the fact that each country would have accurate weather forecasts, without data from neighboring areas it is impossible to accomplish this task. Finally, in each subject of the Russian Federation there are regional patterns of hedrometeoservice, where forecasters use their professional intelligence for proper understanding of mathematical calculations. Each of them knows the climate of his district, knows the features that cannot yet be described. These forecasters issue predictions. I don't know, where are the other options from.

All this can be considered as protection esprit de corps, but there are simple figures. It's tested that our predictions are more precise then those that can be found on all other sites, including CNN, AccuWeather and so on. By the way, this situation is common for every national meteorological service. So you should always focus on the meteorological service forecasts of the country, the weather in which you are interested.

To predict, it is necessary to have good initial data. We are launching aerological probes, using radar and satellite data, and as the result we have much information about the atmosphere over the continent. But two-thirds of the surface of our planet is ocean. How to learn it? Specialized courts are still not enough. Merchant vessels make observations only occasionally. Only 7 years ago international experiment called "Argo" began to be implemented. Special ships drop buoys on the surface of the ocean, then according to a radio signal they dive to depths of 2-3 km, and then pass through a sufficiently large horizontal distance of 100 km, emerge and transmit the stored information to the satellite. And from there information is relayed to the meteorological offices. There were 3000 such buoys, and their number is replenished periodically.

The data from the ocean is very rapid, and it is hoped that in 10-15 years we will know about the ocean as much as about the atmosphere, and we will be able to describe it also in details. And then the quality of weather forecasts for long periods of time and for the season will improve. Even this term exists in English – communication model, a joint model of the atmosphere and ocean, which must describe very precisely and in detail the interaction of these two environments: how heat and moisture streams flow from the atmosphere into the ocean and vice versa.

There are several scenarios of global warming from 1.5 degrees by the end of the century to 6-6,5 degrees. The first scenario is the most favorable, but I think it's unlikely. The second one is quite disastrous. The temperature will rise within these limits. In temperate latitudes the rainfall will not change while in Northern regions it will increase, but in the South ones it will decrease, and the situation will get worse in the arid zones. In addition, due to climate warming glaciological conditions will be significantly changed. About 50% of rivers are of glacial origin, and area of glaciers in the mountains goes up. This phenomenon has been observed by the experts for the last 20 years, it has an impact on rivers, their content is reduced, and this situation is typical for many regions.

Water scarcity can change the policy of many countries. This is stated in scientific works – people will fight for water, because without it life is impossible, lack of it changes the psychology of people and their political aspirations. Now in Asian countries there are very tense relations related to water resources management.

It would seem that such a crisis does not threaten to Russia. We live in the middle, where, thank God, there are many streams, so we swim and relax. But everything is not so rosy. I really liked the work of a famous hydrologist, corresponding member of Russian Academy of Sciences Victor Danilov-Danilyan, who showed that in a few decades due to climate change and economic development even in the temperate latitudes of Europe a shortage of water may be felt. Not to mention the more southern areas, to which I refer Central Chernozem region, Rostov region and Krasnodar territory. Only one fact: over the past 15 years, the occupancy rate of the Tsimlyansk reservoir on the Don River has not exceeded 70%. And in fact, is often close to 50%.

Baikal problem is on everyone's lips. Since the beginning of this century, there is shortage of water of the rivers, that is why the lake level is lowered. For many of us it's hard to believe, because in 2013 there was a catastrophic flood on the Amur River, but this is an outstanding event that happens once in 200-250 years. And the last 15-16 years, almost all of the years were dry, so the navigation in summer at some places was difficult. So fresh water becomes less now, and in future this trend will intensify. Although, of course, due to the climate of our country there would probably be no problems with a very acute shortage, unlike other regions, which are located in the South.

Change the direction of rivers is now again offer as way out. In our country, they flow to the North, where they are, in general, not really even "needed". And if they are be turned, living conditions in the southern regions will improve. But this is all theory, that should be carefully checked, because no one can definitely describe how climate will change other components, if the river Lena does not flow into the Arctic Ocean but to the Central Asia. It is a dangerous business because you can solve one problem, but aggravate another one.

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