Young scientists hone skills one cloud at a time
A group of young researchers spent the past couple of years with their heads in the clouds... to better understand aerosol cloud interactions and how they can help predict climate change. The project also led to technological advances in remote-sensing instrumentation and picked up the pace for technological transfer from research to industry.
© Vasily Merkushev - fotolia.com
The EU-funded ITaRS project offered hands-on training opportunities in atmospheric research to young researchers from around the world. Forming a unique network of universities, research organisations and industry from various disciplines from meteorology, geoscience and physics to electrical engineering and mathematics the project prepared 16 PhD students and postdocs employed at European research institutions for careers in this growing scientific field.
Through the programme, which ran between 2012 and 2016, the fellows gained exposure to the latest instrumentation and algorithms needed to efficiently tackle the problems of aerosol-cloud interaction. Understanding this relationship can help scientists to predict how the climate is likely to change.
“I was most impressed by the engagement of the young fellows,” says project coordinator Susanne Crewell, professor of meteorology at the University of Cologne. “I was sure that we would attract a very international crowd of fellows, but how these fellows came together to form a community and interact with each other, and how strongly they had a common spirit of ITaRS, was really impressive.”
The outcome of the four-year project was no less remarkable. ITaRS improved understanding and measurement of aerosol and cloud processes in atmospheric models. A unique legacy has also been its advancement of remote-sensing instrumentation and capabilities to speed up technological transfer from research to industry.
With so much ambiguity in the air, Crewell emphasises the importance of teaching scientists how to accurately interpret cloud formation to predict future climate changes with confidence.
“There are so many major uncertainties in the interaction between aerosols and clouds and radiation,” says Crewell. “That’s why all the different climate models show different results. Take, for instance, the doubling of carbon dioxide levels. Some models say two degrees warming and others say six degrees that’s a huge spread.”
Improving climate models
According to the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), clouds are one of the main modulators of heating in the atmosphere, controlling many other aspects of the climate system. Progress towards understanding the interplay between clouds, circulation and climate sensitivity is a primary metric of our ability to anticipate the future.
“We can help with better observation and process studies to finally improve these climate models,” she explains. “That’s why our topics covered basic measurements to developing new instruments to observing aerosols and clouds, as well as studies where they put three-dimensional radiative effect of cloud into circulation models.”
The training culminated with the fellows presenting their results at the 2016 Meteorological Technology World Expo in Brussels where they discussed their future plans with industry leaders.
“The specific advantage of the project was the strong involvement of our industrial partners,” says Crewell ITaRS comprised 10 associate partners (five manufacturers of meteorological instruments and five from academic research institutions).
“We really started with the idea that we could improve the current observational network because measures are costly and difficult,” she explains. “And, together with industry we can work with more robust cost-effective instrumentation that will allow us to really observe aerosols and clouds much more reliably.”
Several of the ITaRS alumni have since embarked on a career in industry. “This is where they can really bring in the knowledge they gained to further improve instrumentation,” says Crewell.
Despite the project’s official end in March 2016, the role of ITaRS has continued through a robust network formed among the alumni and the collaboration partners. To meet growing interest from prospective fellows, there are plans for new training sessions, summer schools and other activities.
According to Crewell, a follow-up project would lead to “an even stronger impact to the science because we have set up so many methods and technologies that we can exploit further”.
She adds: “ITaRS is a brand mark that is really well known and has a high standard.”