Friday, June 07, 2002

It's getting drizzlier

Environmentalist: Rainfalls more frequent, but thinner

By Tom O'Neill,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        It's raining more frequently and longer. But oddly, it's not raining as hard. We are becoming, statistics show, a nation of drizzle.

        That's according to Dr. Shafiqul Islam.

[photo] Shafiqul Islam, UC professor of environmental engineering studies, stoops by a puddle on campus Thursday.
(Craig Ruttle photo)
| ZOOM |
        The University of Cincinnati professor of environmental engineering studies when, where and how much rain comes down. The goal is to calculate nationwide climate changes that reflect everything from higher temperatures to soil production to umbrella sales.

        His ongoing study of data from 1949 to 1995, from all 50 states,shows that rain frequency is up 0.23 percent per year. Rainfalls are lasting 0.38 percent longer annually, too.

        “If we have a rise in temperature,” Dr. Islam said at his UC office, where his lone window was dotted Thursday with raindrops, “it increases the amount of water that can evaporate. It can't stay in the sky forever.”

        Lest you think this 41-year-old researcher is a number-cruncher who loves heartless data on CD-ROM, he doesn't view rain as being all wet.

        “Boring? No, not really,” Dr. Islam said. “The beauty of academics is the pursuit of things, knowledge.”

        Interesting facts abound.

        For one, the average raindrop stays in the sky 10 to 11 days before falling, and in that time can travel more than 3,000 miles by wind. So, most of the rain that fell on you Thursday probably was born over the Gulf of Mexico, Dr. Islam said.

        With a $278,000 grant from NASA, he is working with researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass., where he earned a doctorate in environmental engineering.

        Analyzing data from more than 1,000 rain gauges across the United States, including 50 in Ohio, Dr. Islam's research has shown that rises in global temperature correspond with more precipitation. Whether the causes are natural or man-made remains unclear.

U.S. trends in yearly storm statistics
        “I think it's probably a combination of both, man-made and natural,” Dr. Islam said. “There's more carbon dioxide in past 50 years than ever before from fossil fuel consumption, but how much that's a factor, we don't know yet.”

        National Aeronautics and Space Administration officials said climate data has uses beyond the agency's space program.

        “It's to improve our science and help our abilities to predict climate changes,” Jared Entin, NASA's manager of global water and energy cycle programs, said Thursday from his Washington, D.C., office.

        “A good example is the difference between (D.C.) versus Seattle,” Mr. Entin said. “There's more rain total here, but what do you think when you say Seattle? Rain. But it's the way it falls, and that's a key question.”

        Seattle is known for frequent drizzle but fewer than average “hard rains.”

        All this is a long way from Dr. Islam's boyhood home of Bangladesh. The average temperature there is 80, he said, with four months of very heavy rain followed by periods of drought.

        Since then, he has lived four years in Boston, and 11 in Greater Cincinnati, where he and his wife are raising two children in West Chester Township.

        In moving to Boston, he braced himself for the New England winter but found it milder than he envisioned.

        “My first winter,” he said, laughing, “I thought all was covered in 10 feet of snow.”

        It's not, but we're creeping, however slowly, toward Seattle.

        So grab an umbrella.


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