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Trip to Ariel Sharon Park and Israel Meteorological Services

On Wednesday 17th May an eager group of tiyullers left on a Telfed tour to visit Ariel Sharon Park and the Israel Meteorological Services facility at nearby Beit Dagan. Punctuality of departure which has become a feature of the Telfed tiyulim is unusual for Israel, but more amazingly, not only did we get going on time, we also kept to planned  time schedule for the whole tiyul. On the bus with us was Telfed staffer, Anne Abarbanel as our liaison as well as former Telfed Director Sid Shapiro. During  the journey to the Park, Peter Bailey gave a brief summary of the histories of the towns that comprise the Gush Dan Bloc.

The towns are Tel Aviv-Yafo, Ramat Gan, Holon, Bat Yam, Bnei Brak and Givatayim that collectively form Dan Region Association of Towns Sanitation and Solid Waste Disposal Association which administers the Hiriya Garbage Disposal facility where the Ariel Sharon Park is situated.

Mount Hiriya, situated about 6 kilometres south of Ramat Gan and an equal distance north east of Holon is man made, the result of the area being used as a garbage tipping area for 46 years. During that time it accumulated 25 million tons of waste .  This was the garbage dump for the 25 municipalities in the Dan Region which are home to 4 million residents, almost half the population of Israel. Hiriya itself is now a highly sophisticated waste processing centre receiving one thousand 3 ton garbage trucks daily.This means that 3,000 tons of garbage arrive at the facility every day.  Half of this garbage is compressed and loaded onto a fleet of 30 ton trucks that transport the refuse to a new landfill in the Negev. 

The remaining 1,500 tons is mechanically sorted and separated into recyclable products and removed for recycling. The remainder, made up of organic material such as wood, paper and some plastics is ground up and processed to become refuse derived fuel (RDF). This is then used as a fossil fuel alternative which is sold to the nearby Nesher cement plant in Ramla at the rate of 500 tons daily. This RDF now provides  the cement factory with 15% of its daily fuel needs.

By 1998 the man made  mountain had become unacceptably high as well as becoming an ecological hazard as it was prone to collapsing and blocking the Ayalon River flowing towards Tel Aviv as well as polluting the river with organic ooze. Flocks of seagulls and cattle egrets flying over it were on the flight path to Ben Gurion Airport  were another hazard with a  plane engine damaged after ingesting a bird. This resulted in a threat from the International Air Authority to ban flights to or from Ben Gurion. Drastic action was called for.

A tender was put out and an architect from Germany designed a park on the top of the garbage mountain with cultivated gardens and ponds. The ponds are stocked with fish and tadpoles that eat the mosquito larvae as well as water plant ecological filtration methods to keep the water clear.  A visitor centre was built on the only stable part of the mountain where building rubble had been dumped.  The weight of the rest of the mound means that it is sinking slowly, at about 10 cm a year.  Terrace gardens were created using dumped concrete slabs to allow for backfilling. Numerous indigenous trees and shrubs have been planted with a variety of natural herbs that visitors can pick. Carobs and mulberries are free for the taking. 

The wet waste dumped over the years means that methane gas has formed deep within the dump. The methane is now being extracted by means of  80 pipes that go down to the innards of the dump, drawing out the gas which is transferred to a nearby textile factory where it used to generate energy for the factory. Estimates are that the gas should continue flowing for the next 15 years.

From the 180 degree view point you can see a panorama of the whole of the Dan metropolis beyond the large open farmland below. During the British Mandate they realized that this area was the floodplain of the Ayalon and proclaimed it Crown Land, not to be built on. The Hazera Seed Company  occupied the floodplain area until 2005, after which the Ariel Sharon government declared that it would be preserved as parkland, preventing vested interests from turning it into urban sprawl. Plans include the  widening of the Ayalon River tenfold so that Tel Aviv will no longer be threatened with regular seasonal flooding with The 8,000 dunam (2,000 acres) park will be many times larger than Central Park in New York, providing the surrounding urban population with a convenient park  for recreation, with a large lakes, an amphitheater and a wetland which should become a bird watchers paradise.

Our next port of call was the Israel meteorological Services centre at Beit Dagan, down the road from Ariel Sharon Park. During the visit we were given a history of the Service dating back to its origin in 1937, during the British Mandate period. The centre was then moved to HaKirya in Tel Aviv in 1948, where the meteorological service provided vital weather information for the military authorities.

In 1962 the present station was built at Beit Dagan, taking into account that it had to be large enough to deal with all the incoming data. During that early period the data very often arrived by telegram from towns and kibbutzim across Israel as well as from ships at sea. Collation of the data necessitated a large staff, but was nevertheless a slow process. This changed from 1969 onwards when computer technology arrived on the scene, which meant much speedier collection and collation of the information needed for weather forecasting.

We were taken out to see the launching of a weather balloon filled with helium onto which is attached a radio sender.   This device broadcasts data such as temperatures, GPS, humidity, wind speeds as it rises to different levels. The balloon rises and expands till ten times its volume at sea level and bursts at about 30km up. In calm weather it can reach a record of 46 km in height before bursting. The sending device then  lands with a parachute can be reused.  Very often the device lands in Jordan, so is not returned.

Today there are 80 modern computerized weather stations all round Israel as well as others on ships and aircraft, with incoming weather data being received at 10 minute intervals. In the recent years there has been cooperation with European meteorological stations as well as data available from satellites, increasing the accuracy of weather predicting.  The meteorologist rooms have numerous TV monitors showing visibility, satellite views, wind speed direction as well as wave formation transmitted from buoys out at sea.

While much of the information was way above the heads of most of us, we left the Centre with a far greater awareness of the intricacies of weather forecasting. Back on the bus a tired group of tiyulers commented on having spent a wonderful day, having acquired a better understanding of waste disposal and weather forecasting.

Article written by Ronnie Feldman



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