The EU agreed to support the AMMA project for various reasons, including its scientific excellence and the possible socio-economic impact. Georgios Amanatidis, the official in charge of research on climate change forecasts at the European Commission, provides some explanations.
© Yves Sciama
How was the decision taken to devote European funds to the AMMA project?
We have a policy of getting Europe to intervene when the Member States cannot achieve the critical mass on their own.
This is typically the case with climate problems, which are often interdisciplinary and very complex. Therefore, in the Sixth Framework Programme, we launched a call for proposals, entitled Hotspots in Climate. This call for proposals was more general than usual, and therefore provided us with an increased number of proposals of a very high standard, based on zones as diverse as the polar regions, the Gulf Stream, the Amazon, and so on. With the help of external assessors, we chose AMMA by virtue of the scientific excellence of the project and the multidisciplinary aspect of the research, which combines agriculture, geophysics, water management, and many other facets, as well as for their important socio-economic impact.
After a year and a half, what are your feelings about the progress of the project?
Initiated by French scientists, AMMA has become a genuine international research platform, which allies high level European expertise with several American institutions, especially the NOAA, NASA and MIT, who participate in the project at various levels, not to mention of course the large number of African partners.
2006 is unquestionably a crucial year for the AMMA project - the year we have collected the most important data. We are, however, confident. The project is most certainly very complex but the coordinators are doing an excellent job, and the scientists are highly motivated.
What can Europe bring to this type of project?
|Arrival of a density current marked by soil particles that it gradually picks up on its way to Hombori (Mali). This phenomenon is called the haboob.
© CNRS Photographic library/Françoise Guichard – URA1357 Toulouse
Financial contribution is important. AMMA constitutes a total expenditure, for all its partners, in the region of 50 million euros. The Commission is providing 13 million euros of this amount, to make pan-European scientific participation possible in the project.
Furthermore, we decided to earmark a supplementary budget, from a reserve fund of the Sixth Framework Programme, for a special invitation to African institutions that might join the project. The beneficiaries of this invitation were 17 additional African partners from seven countries. They will be dedicated to the study of climatic impacts, while the Europeans will provide weightier material to answer geophysical questions. This will contribute to the local acquisition and perpetuation of skills, which represents one of our basic objectives.
What does this type of project bring to Europe?
The African monsoons play an important role in the planetary climate, influencing atmospheric circulation on a global scale. West Africa is also a notable source of ozone precursors and aerosols, which have significant implications for global climate change. In order to respond to scientific questions and make political decisions on the evolution of the climate or the ozone layer, in Europe and elsewhere, it is important to take into consideration the results of such projects as AMMA.
This is also why we are encouraging crosschecking and comparison with different, though complementary, projects. For example, the European project “Ensembles”, which is dedicated to modelling the global climate, is expected to use data from AMMA. Synergies are also envisaged with another project, “Scout-O3”, which studies the links between ozone and climate through acquisition and exploitation of data relating to the high atmosphere, using stratospheric balloons and the Russian Geophysica plane.