In a global hot spot, and studying weather

In a global hot spot, and studying weather

Jonathan Falk at work on his computer studying temperature patterns during his summer internship at Bar-Ilan University in Israel.     
Jonathan Falk at work on his computer studying temperature patterns during his summer internship at Bar-Ilan University in Israel.     

Ever since he was in middle school, Jonathan Falk has been fascinated by weather.

Now, as he prepares to enter his sophomore year at Cornell University, Falk is being exposed to high-level research on climate and forecasting at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel.

He is one of 27 students who are summer research interns at the seven-week Science Research Program sponsored jointly by Bar-Ilan and Yeshiva universities. 

Combing his Cornell major, atmospheric science, with a minor in computer science, Falk is studying the temperature of the earth’s surface, measuring it with satellites and computer models.

“We do mathematical manipulations and compare them to the actual measured temperature from a thermometer. From that we can determine whether the thermometer, from which we predict the weather, is accurate enough,” he explained in a July 30 phone interview from the Bar-Ilan campus.

Falk, who lives in East Brunswick and graduated from Torah Academy of Bergen County in Teaneck, sees his study as “having ramifications in agriculture, business, and the military. We don’t have the money to put a thermometer everyplace in the world. It’s impossible. So we want to know the temperature at every single spot in the world, and we can’t use instruments to do that. The only way we can do that is to use satellites or computer models. They can help us predict the weather better. We can predict whether it is going to rain more easily than if we didn’t have that information.”

Although he is not involved in researching climate change and global warming, Falk said, “Climate change does have a way of tying itself in. But [in the Bar-Ilan program] we are not working on such a big scale that climate change has entered the conversation. We are looking at two-year periods, five-year periods, 10-year periods in the past. We have enough information from that to do our research, but it is not big enough to say whether climate change is affecting this.”

Falk said he is interested in weather because “it has such a major impact on so many things in the world. Not just ‘What am I going to wear?’ or ‘Should I bring an umbrella to work?’ but how it affects agriculture, business, insurance, and the military. ‘How many hurricanes will be in the Gulf Coast this summer? Should I buy insurance to cover that?’ 

“Trying to make it a better science will really improve the world,” he said.

While he “just learned the basics at Cornell,” Falk said, “what I am doing at Bar-Ilan is more advanced. I have learned things here that I hadn’t learned yet.”

His ambitions include graduate school, but he adamantly rejects one possibility that many who major in atmospheric science have as a goal. “I definitely do not want to be a broadcast meteorologist,” he insisted.

Instead, he would prefer to work for the United States government’s National Weather Service, “doing research or forecasting different things. It may be similar to what you see on TV but a little more advanced, using more powerful computer models.”

Falk said his Orthodox Jewish background also factors into his studies.

“I appreciate the world around me when I learn about science and how everything works,” he told NJ Jewish News. “Just seeing the power of nature and the power of God definitely enhances my faith. I get to see this amazing beauty and the power that weather can show us. 

“No matter how far we are advanced in technology and how far in advance we can predict something, we are still not able to protect ourselves from a tornado or a hurricane. That says something about the power of nature and the power of God.”

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