Abstracts will be accepted until 31 July 2015 for a Virtual Alpine Observatory Symposium taking place 27-30 October 2015 in Salzburg under the motto “Observe, Understand, Predict”. Fifty partners from Alpine countries—including DLR—participate in the Virtual Alpine Observatory (VAO).
VAO focuses on three topics: Atmospheric Variability and Trends, Alpine Environment: Threats and Risks, and Alpine Water Resources.
The heart of VAO is a research infrastructure that includes the Schneefernerhaus Environmental Research Station on the Zugspitze mountain, Sonnblick Observatory in Austria, the Jungfraujoch/Gornergrat Observatory in Switzerland, the Haute Provence Observatory in France, EURAC in Italy, and institutions in Slovenia. Institutions in Bulgaria, Georgia and Norway participate as associates. The data and information technology structures are primarily provided through the involvement of the World Data Center for Remote Sensing of the Atmosphere, WDC-RSAT, in Oberpfaffenhofen and the Leibniz Computer Center, LRZ, in Garching.
VAO background information
The climate has changed measurably in the past hundred years at global and regional levels. While the global mean temperature in this period has increased by ca. 0.8 °C, the average temperature in the northern Alpine region has increased over the past 30 years by as much as 1.6°C.
Some 14 million people in several countries currently live in the European Alpine region, which makes this the most densely settled mountain region worldwide. People here are confronted with the need to balance the interests of industry, agriculture, tourism and transport, taking into account the distinctive interactions of these sectors caused by the complex and unique topography of the Alps. In addition to high settlement dynamics and competition for land, which have a direct effect on quality of life, the consequences of climate change on living space and economic activity in the Alps are particularly noticeable.
It is already evident today that climate change will increasingly leave its “footprint” in this highly climate-sensitive region in a variety of areas, often doing so very rapidly. The extremely complex processes which govern climate and the environment are very dynamic, highly interactive, and their effects extend and further develop beyond national borders. For these reasons, unremitting international initiatives are required to address this complex of interrelated factors. Three climate zones, Atlantic, Pannonian and Mediterranean, come together in a relatively small area in the Alps. West winds transporting mild, humid air masses from the Atlantic; cold polar air from the north; dry, continental air masses from the east (cold in winter, hot in summer); and warm Mediterranean air from the south are the most important climate influences.
It is becoming clear that changes in airstream systems on regional, continental and global scales will have immediate effects on the climate of the Alpine region. With their East-West orientation the Alps are also a prominent weather barrier. Accumulations on the north side of the Alps frequently cause Europe’s largest amounts of precipitation. So-called “Vb weather conditions” are frequent. In combination with the Alpine orography they often contribute to strong rainfall lasting several days—arriving from the south, so to speak from the back door of the Alps—leading to spectacular flooding, also in Bavaria.
It is extremely difficult to unambiguously and quantitatively distinguish between cause and effect in this complex of interconnected relationships. Forecasts about how the alpine environment will develop, and about what will be the specific consequences in each region, call for precise understanding of all the complex mechanisms involved. In order to take appropriate protective measures to accompany these developments, accurate climate forecasts are urgently needed. This requires complex numeric computer models that contain our present knowledge of the processes going on in the various parts of the Alps in the form of mathematic equations.
Many of the parameters needed for such calculations are not yet well understood. However, Responsible management of the environment requires reliable forecasts on global, continental and regional scales. The VAO programme will contribute to minimizing the sources of error in such prognoses. This knowledge is especially needed in the political sphere. The decisions made there can have irreversible consequences for the socioeconomic structure of the entire region.
The impact sequence of observation, knowledge gain and forecasting ability is the characteristic element of the Virtual Alpine Observatory (VAO). This triad is the essential foundation for gaining politically useful practical knowledge.
Knowledge gain requires monitoring all possible relevant drivers of the Alpine environment in the atmosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere and cryosphere, as well as the effects on human health. The triad of observing, understanding and predicting has to be permanently put into effect.
The goal of VAO is to intensify collaboration among the Alpine high altitude research stations, to share data on climate research, and to carry out joint science projects. In addition to the partners in the environmental research station, a number of other research institutions and companies conduct research at Schneefernerhaus.
Implementing the concept of a Virtual Alpine Observatory (VAO) is taking place in three phases. The installation of hardware infrastructure for the Virtual Alpine Observatory (VAO-I) is almost finished. In the current Phase 2 the information technology linkage among the participating observatories, LRZ, and WDC-RSAT will be carried out. Phase 2 will especially concentrate on joint research and development projects to demonstrate and further expand the capabilities of the research infrastructure.
In a third phase—now being planned—VAO is to be anchored at the European level as an infrastructure component, and better linked internationally (VAO4EU).