By: Muaz Nasir
Today marks National Umbrella Day; a day where we mark our appreciation for this useful invention. (1)
Umbrella’s are an innovative tool, that have been around for thousands of years. Evidence of their use can be found in ancient art and artifacts in Egypt, Assyria, Greece and China (2). Not only do they keep us dry during the rain, but they can also protect us from the damaging rays of the sun.
As a result, the umbrella has become a symbol for climate change, representing the dueling forces of floods and droughts that have rocked the planet in recent years.
Floods, Droughts and Climate Change
Water vapour, which is the source of rain and snow, primarily comes from two sources. About 60% is derived straight from the oceans, while the other 40% is evaporated over the continents. This is important to note because the rate of evaporation from the ocean increases as the world warms, and this contributes to increases in the annual amount of snow and rain (2).
Globally, the atmosphere is getting warmer, which means that it can retain more moisture. More rain may seem like a good thing, but too much rain, especially high-intensity, short-duration storms, can have a devastating impact. Flash floods have become common in some parts of Canada, where rain that falls as a violent downpour, quickly runs back into the rivers and lakes, rather than being absorbed and retained in the soil.
On the flip side of the equation, even though evaporation is increasing, the holding capacity of the atmosphere is not keeping pace. This results in dry spells between rain events, as it takes longer for moisture to recharge the atmosphere. This leaves parched soils which are unable to hold moisture during these severe storms, and further exacerbates the run-off of water out of the system when rain actually arrives (3).
Whether it's heavy rain or blistering sun, the humble umbrella will become one of the go-to tools in the toolbox in adapting to climate change.
What’s Next for Umbrellas?
Recently, Saudi engineers have re-designed the umbrella to assist Hajj pilgrims avoid heat exhaustion and dehydration at the holy sites where temperatures can climb to over 40°C. Known as a smart umbrella, it is solar powered and has integrated USB ports, a fan, flashlight and a GPS system to help locate lost family members and friends (4). Other versions connect the base to a water bottle which can deliver a cooling mist to pilgrims (5).
This National Umbrella Day, give your umbrella a tune-up before spring arrives and consider its new role in a world with climate change.
National Day Calendar: https://nationaldaycalendar.com/national-umbrella-day-february-10/
The Climate Reality Project: https://www.climaterealityproject.org/blog/why-does-climate-change-lead-more-floods-and-droughts
Climate Communication Science & Outreach: https://www.climatecommunication.org/new/features/extreme-weather/precipitation-floods-drought/