NOS Nieuws•vandaag, 18:19
Heavy rainfall, green mountain tops and even flooding: the normally dry Saudi Arabia has had to deal with a lot of wetness in recent months. According to experts, this is not unrelated to climate change.
Because where the mountains around the holy places Mecca and Medina are normally black or brown, they turn green after the recent rainfall. Images of this rare phenomenon are circulating on social media, especially in the Islamic community, which links it to the Day of Judgment.
First the images, see them for yourself here:
Green hills near Mecca by rain
Muslims, like other Abrahamic religions, believe in the end of the world and the Day of Judgment. According to a tradition of the Prophet Muhammad, there are several signs that that day is coming. That ‘the land of the Arabs’ would go back to lots of greenery and rivers, as it once was, is one of them.
According to climate scientists, the heavy rainfall has to do with changing weather conditions. Saudi Arabia has a desert climate and in some places a semi-arid climate, explains Michelle van Vliet. She is professor of physical hydrology at Utrecht University. In the region around Mecca, an average of 112 millimeters of rain falls per year. In the Netherlands this is around 870 millimetres.
Normally there is relatively little rain around Mecca, much less than in recent months in that region. “You cannot necessarily say that one extreme rain shower in Saudi Arabia in December is due to climate change. After all, the weather is always erratic, but the chance of these kinds of extremes is increasing all over the world,” says Leo Meyer, director of ClimateContact , which aims to make knowledge about climate change more accessible.
“Global warming in the last half century means that more water vapor is retained. That vapor also has to settle somewhere,” explains Meyer.
“The distribution of that precipitation over different regions changes in space, but also in time. That means very heavy precipitation, but also very severe drought in some places,” Van Vliet adds. “And the fact that those extremes are becoming more and more extreme is also related to climate change.”
Nature reacts immediately
Where usually nothing grows, spontaneous flowering can suddenly occur. This also happened earlier after a period of rare rain in the Atacama Desert in Chile. Plants in dry areas do not survive extreme weather, but they do disperse their seeds. They can sprout suddenly, even during a relatively short shower.
Images of the region from NASA’s Terra satellite, via ArabiaWeather
Satellite images of the region, showing a green strip
Mecca and Medina, where many of these sudden weather changes have been observed, are sacred areas for Muslims. That is why the images caused quite a stir, especially in that community. Although most Muslims do not directly attribute the change to faith, a tradition or hadith from the Prophet Muhammad is widely cited.
The fact that Saudi Arabia now turns green would belong to one of the described signs for the Day of Judgment from such a hadith. There is discussion about these signs among Muslim scholars, explains Umar Ryad, professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies at the University of Leuven.
Some theologians see them as prophecies and miracles of the word of God in the Qur’an. But according to Ryad, there are many Muslim scholars who find the hadiths, which have been handed down for years, not always reliable. “That’s why one has to be careful with it,” he says.
“In prehistoric times, Arabia was green,” says Ryad. “A lot of archaeological research is now being done on this. For example, the Green Arabia project, where scientists are looking for the green origin of the area.”
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