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Seeing the bigger picture with climate change

Europe takes a leading role in combatting climate change, cutting its emissions and helping forge global consensus to address the problem. European action on this front includes research to learn more about weather systems across the planet, as two recent European Union (EU)-funded projects show.
Mekong River at sunset

While the ICOS project helped build an integrated system to monitor greenhouse gases over Europe and adjacent regions, the CEOP-AEGIS project studied precipitation, melt water, soil moisture and evaporation in the Tibetan plateau, and how it impacts the South East Asian climate, particularly in terms of monsoons.

Integrated Carbon Observation System (ICOS) is a harmonised network of measurement sites in Europe, Siberia and Africa to understand the current state of greenhouse gasses and forecast future behaviour. The ICOS research infrastructure is expected to help scientists deal with one the most challenging problems facing humanity by providing transparent and accurate data.

“Deeper understanding of the driving forces of climate change requires direct measurements of greenhouse gas emissions and their evolution. Regional greenhouse gas flux patterns, tipping-points and vulnerabilities can be studied through long-term, high precision observations in the atmosphere as well as at the ocean and land surface,” says Gabriele Fioni, Director of the Physical Sciences Division of the French Atomic and Alterative Energies Commission (CEA) in Paris, the institution that led the preparatory phase of the ICOS infrastructure from 2007 to 2013.

The ICOS team has nearly completed the set up of a network of ecosystem and atmospheric stations to collect measurements, and is now moving into the follow-up operational phase, which will run until 2031. And since the preparatory work was completed in 2013, its headquarters have moved to Helsinki, Finland, and ICOS is on its way to securing its legal status as a European Research Infrastructure Consortium (ERIC). From September 23-26, 2014, it will host the first ICOS International Conference on Greenhouse Gases and Biogeochemical Cycles in Brussels - open for all scientists interested in research on greenhouse gases, biochemical cycles and climate change. “The added-value of the ICOS infrastructure will be to improve the visibility and dissemination of European greenhouse gas data and products,” explains Fioni.

The CEOP-AEGIS project specifically targeted the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, as more than 40% of the Earth's population is affected by the interaction between the Himalayan mountain range and the monsoon climate. Indeed, the headwaters of seven major Asian rivers - Yellow River, Yangtze, Mekong, Salween, Irrawaddy, Brahmaputra and Ganges - are located in the plateau. The project involved a coordinated Asian-Europen observation system using ground-satellite image data and used numerical simulations to study the links between precipitation (snow and rainfall), soil moisture, evaporation and how they influence water systems, including monsoons and drought.

“The project showed how current Earth observation systems in space could be used to extract information from primary measurements and make it widely available,” says CEOP-AEGIS project coordinator Massimo Menenti, a former Research Director at the University of Strasbourg, France, and now professor at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands.

The data has helped the development of a hydrological modelling system and revealed, for example, how Pakistan is dependent on snow melt-water from the plateau. Two new drought indicators have also been developed, as well as early warning of flooded areas at the regional scale. “The project is expected to provide all countries in the region with information on water resources and the role of the Tibetan plateau in determining weather and climate in the region,” concludes Menenti.

International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer - 16 September 2014

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