Israel Fails to Purchase Necessary Computers to Forecast Local Climate Change

Meteorological Service still relies on decade-old models that almost no one uses anymore, as multi-million shekel plan by Israel's cabinet remains unimplemented

Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron
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ים המלח, באפריל. ישראל מוגדרת כ"נקודה חמה במיוחד" מבחינת רגישות לשינויי אקלים בשל מיקומה הגיאוגרפי
The Dead Sea in April.Credit: Emil Salman
Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron

Israel does not have a forecast for the local changes caused by the global climate crisis because the government has not provided the Israel Meteorological Service with the computing resources it needs to carry out these forecasts.

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The decision on procuring the necessary computer systems to make the detailed forecasts – at a cost of about 20 million shekels ($6.1 million) – was approved by the cabinet three years ago, but has not been implemented. Nir Stav, director general of the Meteorological Service, confirmed the matter for Haaretz, and explained that this means government ministries do not have an accurate enough database to make decisions and prepare for the damage caused by the climate crisis in Israel.

Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli told Haaretz on Thursday she would work to secure the necessary funds to procure the computing system, calling it a "strategic" issue. According to treasury officials, funds for the new system would come from the Transportation Ministry's existing budget.

Different meteorological models enable the forecasting of climate change – including rain, drought, flooding and other extreme weather events – at various levels of resolution. To prepare for these changes, developed countries all over the world use meteorological models that have a resolution of less than 10 kilometers. Because of the lack of computing power, the Meteorological Service is forced to use cruder models from a decade ago, with a resolution of 50 kilometers – which are almost no longer in use in the Western world.

Israel has been identified by scientists as a “hotspot” in terms of its sensitivity to climate change, because of its location. Already today it is possible to see temperatures rising at a much more rapid pace than the global averages. The cabinet decision from July 2018 stated that Israel must establish a “national computational center with high processing capability, which will serve to run climate simulations at high resolution, examine different scenarios and their possible implications, and to simulate the level of effectiveness of various adaptation activities. The resource will be at the service of all academic and governmental bodies.”

None of this has happened.

In reports released in recent years, the Meteorological Service has warned of its inability to provide reliable and precise forecasts. The “Climate Change in Israel Research Report” from 2019 said that “these regional models are at a too crude level of spatial resolution for proper modelling of the weather in Israel.” The models are not able to properly describe the absolute temperature values in Israel and do not properly describe the different quantities of rain, states the report.

Scientists have also warned that the forecasts are not precise because of the too large resolution of Israeli calculations, which forces them to rely on data from other countries – as well as making corrections based on studying the gaps between past and present forecasts. Such forecasts, based on the process of statistical correction, should be used cautiously, and these climate models have limitations that make it difficult to describe the real climate, said the report.

Israel is characterized by severe changes in climate over very short distances – because of the mountains and the Syrian-African Rift Valley, and the influence of the Mediterranean Sea and the desert, Stav told Haaretz. “High resolution simulations of our region will not be produced by another country, and we must do it ourselves. Israel has first-class scientists and experts in developing models, and if they have the computational means, we can reach the necessary results within a short time. This is how decision makers in Israel can prepare in an intelligent way for climate change,” said Stav.

A report from the Knesset Research and Information Center released on Thursday says Israel’s unique characteristics necessitate high spatial resolution models to create a reliable climate forecast. These include large differences in topographic altitude over very short distances, and a narrow coastal strip where central climatic phenomena take place, such as the sea breezes and the formation of rain clouds.

Dr. Amir Givati of the department of environmental studies at Tel Aviv University says the European Union plans on running a climate model this year with a resolution of only three kilometers. “This will provide decision makers with much more accurate insights as to the future climate,” he said. “We must develop these capabilities here in Israel and not just rely on results from Europe. Precise data are necessary for all sectors of the economy, such as water, energy and agriculture. It doesn’t exist today,” said Givati.

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