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Headlines Published on 21 December 2005

Title Scouting for signs of climate change

European climate researchers have repeatedly braved the turbulent skies over Darwin, in Australia’s tropics, attempting to measure trace gases affecting the ozone layer. The data-collecting mission is part of the EU-backed SCOUT-03 project. Findings should lend weight to climate change discussions proceeding under the auspices of the Kyoto Protocol.

Russia’s Geophysica aircraft before a climate research mission in Australia. © Jülich Research Centre
Russia’s Geophysica aircraft before a climate research mission in Australia.
© Jülich Research Centre
Equipment strapped onto the Russian high-altitude research aircraft Geophysica and the German Aerospace Centre’s (DLR) Falcon has been gathering valuable climate data in the tropical atmosphere above Darwin, near the Tropic of Capricorn in Australia’s Far North. Scientists in the EU SCOUT-03 project carried out nine such tandem flights during November and December 2005.

With €15 million in Commission funding, 59 partner institutions and over 100 scientists from 19 countries involved, SCOUT-03 is clearly a huge undertaking. But it takes a big project to tackle the big issue of what greenhouse gases are doing to our climate. And SCOUT-O3’s mission is to map and possibly predict what it calls the “chemistry/climate system”, with emphasis on ozone change in the lower stratosphere and the associated impact on ultraviolet rays and climate. 

The measurement campaign focused on thunderclouds which form during Australia’s summer monsoon. The tropics are of particular interest to scientists because this is where the exchange of air masses occurs between the lower- (troposphere) and upper atmosphere (stratosphere). Many trace gases, such as chlorofluorocarbons, nitrogen oxides and water, originate from this region and have a global influence on the stratosphere’s ozone chemistry.

Getting close to the thunderclouds and fitting all the flights into the short timeframe when they form were critical to the fact-finding missions, according to Cornelius Schiller, coordinator of the SCOUT-03 aircraft campaign and a physicist at the Jülich Research Centre. For this, SCOUT-03 even enlisted the help of two British research aircraft in the area at the time.

Tropopause for thought
This sort of work requires well-coordinated teamwork between the meteorologists who deliver the weather forecasts, the teams of researchers who operate the instruments, and the pilots who navigate the plane to the site of interest, notes Schiller.

“A first look at the [recently collected] data shows that the storms do, indeed, effectively transport water, nitrogen oxides and other trace gasses into the tropical tropopause region," says Schiller. What’s more, they generate high-altitude cirrus clouds and, in the lower and middle atmosphere, Jülich scientists measured extremely low concentrations of water.

More detailed analysis of the results could take several more months. The first results will likely be discussed at an international SCOUT-03 conference at the Research Centre Jülich, 20-24 March 2006. No doubt, the data gathered during the recent flights will also inform discussion on climate change taking place in the context of the Kyoto Protocol. Coincidentally, the recent World Climate Conference in Montreal, Canada, was taking place as the SCOUT-03 scientists scoured the skies in search of stronger evidence linking ozone change and trace gasses.

Source:  SCOUT-03 press release

Research Contacts page

More information:

  • SCOUT-03 (on the Jülich Research Centre website)
  • Ozone information (on European Ozone Research Coordination Unit site)
  • UN Summit seeks climate solutions (BBC, 25 November 2005)

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