Belgium Rain

Why Does It Rain So Much in Belgium?

Philip Lepoutre | February 28, 2019

Before clouds collapse into rain, they can actually reach an incredible mass of 500,000 kg (1.1 million pounds). For perspective, it’s like having 12,500 heavy pianos floating around in the air.

Belgium Rain
© BingoArts

For some, there is nothing better than a rainy day to make you feel so full of joy you want to break out in song and dance as Don Lockwood did in the 1952 film ‘Singin ́ in the Rain’. “I’m singin’ in the rain, just singin’ in the rain, what a glorious feeling and I’m happy again!”

However, movies are not always true to life and many people have a much more difficult relationship with the rain. Belgium has always received heavy rain. In fact, it rains so much in Belgium that hundreds of artists and painters from all around the world come to Belgium to create works of art portraying it. Famous examples include Keiko Tanabe, a Japanese painter who lives in the United States and the world-renowned Leonid Afremov, a master of the palette-knife technique. Not only are they deeply intrigued by Belgian culture but also by its weather that stirs up debates all over the world.

Rain is formed when the energy from sun rays heating the ocean surface cause water to change from a liquid to gas state in a process called evaporation. When the clouds eventually cool down they turn back to a liquid state near dust and other particles. The small droplets then become visible and start to be attracted to other neighbouring molecules, behaving like magnets. As more and more droplets merge together, their combined mass becomes too large and hence falls back down as the rain we know all too well. However, before clouds collapse into rain, they can actually reach an incredible mass of 500,000 kg (1.1 million pounds). But how do clouds manage to support so much weight in the first place, seemingly defying gravity? In fact, even though they have an immense combined weight, this weight is usually spread out over a few kilometres, allowing each cubic meter to weigh less than 1g.

When we look more specifically at Belgian weather, the first indicator, which may explain this bad weather, is Belgium’s location near the North Sea. According to a study by the Royal Belgian Institute of Meteorology in 2019, winds that come from the North to the East of Belgium outnumber any other direction. As these winds pass above the sea, they pick up water molecules from the ocean and become humid.

But, if we look at the average rainfall in Belgium, another question arises: the area with the most rainfall is the Ardennes, despite being located much farther from the ocean than the majority of places in Belgium. Why is that so? This is caused by the fascinating behaviour air masses display when coming in contact with mountainous landscapes. As wind packed with water molecules travels, it picks up more and more molecules as it goes, but when it reaches a large obstacle like a mountain, it is forced to climb up and condense, releasing all of its moisture into the clouds. These clouds will then release the accumulated moisture onto one side of the mountain for the most part. As this happens, the dried-up wind travels to the other side, picking up any moisture that is present.

This behaviour is known as the “Rain Shadow”, an effect first discovered in 1982 by two Argentinian scientists.

The second clue as to why Belgium finds itself under constant rainfall lies in weather maps that reveal the dynamics of our atmosphere. There are very strong currents of air directed to the North Western European continent whose origins lie in the Atlantic Ocean. These strong currents are called “jet streams”. They are very fast flowing air currents, usually at around 15km in altitude, that appear due to the union of two air masses with radically different temperatures. Hence, the larger the temperature difference between the two air masses, the faster the “air river” will flow.

As it turns out, jet streams are not only present on Earth, but also on other planets of our solar system like Jupiter and Saturn. Jet streams are very frequently used by commercial airliners to reduce travel time. By flying in a jet stream, planes travelling from West to East get a significant boost from the tailwind, which saves time and fuel. Conversely, planes flying in the opposite direction lose time and expend more fuel flying against the jet stream so pilots usually adjust their flying altitude to avoid them. But what does this have to do with Belgium’s weather? As jet streams flow from the Pacific to Europe, they bring in warm air, filled with water molecules. As they reach Belgium, they increase the air humidity and hence also increase the chance of rainfall.

So next time you open your umbrella to go outside, look up the raindrops falling and remember that they travelled huge distances just to arrive where you are, travelling through fast moving jet streams from the Atlantic just to end up in clouds where they will spend their last moments, packed with other raindrops, ready to fall as soon as the cloud gets too heavy.

Mathematics-Voice

What are the Millennium Prize Problems?

 Jennifer Alonso Garcia (in collaboration with CEBE) | May 5, 2021

Mathematics rules most natural and scientific phenomena. But not all problems have been solved yet, and some of the most famous ones are the Millennium Prize problems, which are worth $1 million.

(Original post)

It will not come to you as a surprise if I tell you that mathematicians love problems. Our lives revolve around finding and trying to solve problems. Often, we observe natural phenomena and wonder whether mathematics could help us to formally model their dynamics to further advance our understanding of the world. Sometimes, we discover problems and study theories that might not have a direct practical application. Luckily, more often than not, these theories, formerly viewed as ” useless ” have led to breakthroughs in science and technology. For example, number theory was seen as ” useless ” until Ron Rivest, Adi Shamir and Leonard Adleman created the RSA algorithm that since 1977 allows for secure data transmission.

Some of these mathematical challenges are what the Clay Mathematics Institute, based in New Hampshire (United States), calls the “Millennium Prize Problems”. This institute selected seven important classic questions that had resisted solution by 2000. These problems were the “Poincaré conjecture“, the “P vs NP “, the “Hodge conjecture“, the “Riemann hypothesis“, the “Yang-Mills and mass gap“, the “Navier-Stokes equation“, the “Birch and Swinnerton-Dyer conjecture“. To date, only the “Poincaré conjecture” has been solved, in this case by Russian mathematician Grigori Perelman in 2003. His result proves that 3-dimensional spaces without holes (a donut is an example of a space with a hole) can be deformed to a 3-dimensional sphere.

Among the unsolved remainder, let us focus on the fascinating “P vs NP problem”.

It will not come to you as a surprise if I tell you that mathematicians love problems. Our lives revolve around finding and trying to solve problems. Often, we observe natural phenomena and wonder whether mathematics could help us to formally model their dynamics to further advance our understanding of the world. Sometimes, we discover problems and study theories that might not have a direct practical application. Luckily, more often than not, these theories, formerly viewed as " useless " have led to breakthroughs in science and technology. For example, number theory was seen as " useless " until Ron Rivest, Adi Shamir and Leonard Adleman created the RSA algorithm that since 1977 allows for secure data transmission. Some of these mathematical challenges are what the Clay Mathematics Institute, based in New Hampshire (United States), calls the "Millennium Prize Problems". This institute selected seven important classic questions that had resisted solution by 2000. These problems were the “ Poincaré conjecture ", the " P vs NP ", the " Hodge conjecture ", the " Riemann hypothesis ", the " Yang-Mills and mass gap ", the " Navier-Stokes equation ", the " Birch and Swinnerton-Dyer conjecture ". To date, only the “Poincaré conjecture” has been solved, in this case by Russian mathematician Grigori Perelman in 2003.(a donut is an example of a space with a hole) can be deformed to a 3-dimensional sphere. Among the unsolved remainder, let us focus on the fascinating "P vs NP problem".

This is considered by many experts the most important open problem in computer science. Why? Think of a Sudoku grid which is an example of a NP problem. But first, let’s explain what a P problem is: If I give you a potential solution of a Sudoku grid, then it is  easy  to verify the solution. The time to check the solution increases with the grid, but it does not explode. In the case of the NP problem we find the inverse problem: Finding a solution to a Sudoku grid is hard and the bigger the grid the slower it becomes to find a solution. NP problems are difficult to solve but easy to check once we have found the solution. On the other hand, I can find solutions quickly for P problems.

Most computer scientists think that P is not equal to NP, as nobody has been able to prove yet that P = NP in well-known NP problems. The solution to this “Millenium Prize” problem would have great implications in our daily life. For example, if P = NP is true then it would mean that cryptography, an  NP  problem which is the mathematical base of all our online security systems, should be fully rethought. Think of accessing your email account. It is super  easy  to access if you know the password, but it is extremely hard to  find  the password if you do not know it already. If P = NP then it will be possible to create an algorithm that finds the password  easily. Not all is bad news if P = NP because we would be able to solve many important problems in, for instance, logistics. Think of a salesman problem. For a given list of cities and distances, what is the shortest possible route that goes from the origin city to each city exactly once and returns to the origin city? It sounds easy, but it is actually a very hard optimization problem. If it is proven that P is not equal to NP, it would have less practical computational benefits but would clarify once for all that it is just not possible to develop quick algorithms to solve all problems. That would shift the focus of researchers to finding partial solutions instead of exact ones. Either way, very cool right?

In case you find some free time and solve one of these problems (you can find more info about the other ones here ), you will help advance humanity and feed your savings account with a US$1 million prize.