On 6 November 2014 Bavaria’s minister of the environment, Ulrike Scharf, extended her congratulations in person on the occasion of the 15th anniversary of the Schneefernerhaus Environmental Research Station (UFS). DFD has been using this unusual research location on the Zugspitze mountain since 2004.
Located at an altitude of 2,650 meters, UFS is Germany’s highest research station. It is Bavaria’s centre for climate and high-altitude research. Clear air and little cloud cover are good preconditions for continuously monitoring the atmosphere with optical remote sensing technology. Major research institutions, universities and Bavarian public authorities are at work here to investigate processes relevant for the weather and the climate.
DFD uses its infrared spectrometers and camera systems at UFS to measure atmospheric airglow in the mesopause region at 80-100 kilometres altitude, where there are no interfering light sources. The mesopause is the coldest region of our planet. Because it responds readily to changes in the climate it is especially interesting for the DFD scientists. Some physical processes can be monitored much easier at this high altitude than in the lower atmosphere. This is where so-called gravity waves frequently collapse, releasing momentum and energy which influence atmospheric circulation. Parallel bands of clouds in the lower atmosphere often imply gravity waves.
In addition to DLR, the 500 square metres of experimentation terraces and 750 square metres of laboratory space are used by the Federal Environment Agency UBA, the German Weather Service DWD, The Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, The Munich Helmholtz Centre, the Max Planck Society, Ludwig Maximilian University Munich, Munich Technical University (TUM) and Augsburg University. Under the aegis of the Bavarian State Ministry of the Environment and Consumer Protection, these organisations together comprise the “Virtual Institute -- Schneefernerhaus Environmental Research Station”, where the particular expertise of the participating institutions can fruitfully interact. The work focuses on:
The key thematic areas are embedded in a number of international programmes, such as the United Nations’ “Future Earth” Programme or the World Meteorological Organization’s “Global Atmosphere Watch Programme”. The science activities at Schneefernerhaus are supervised by the UFS Science Team, which is composed of one expert scientist from each participating institution. The head of the team is Prof. Michael Bittner of DFD.
Climate change does not respect national borders and the Alps as a human habitat and economic area are especially vulnerable to such variations. Many of the issues involved call for a broad view. For this reason Schneefernerhaus will be combining its efforts with other high-performance observatories and research institutions in the states neighbouring the Alps. A Virtual Alpine Observatory, VAO, will be established in the course of the next few years by the observatories Jungfraujoch/Gornergrat in Switzerland, Sonnblick in Austria, L'Observatoire de Haute-Provence in France, EURAC in Italy and partners in Slovenia. This initiative is to become an element of Europe’s Strategy for the Alps.
The Virtual Alpine Observatory will be linked with the high-performance computer centre in Garching and the World Data Center for Remote Sensing of the Atmosphere (WDC-RSAT) of DFD in Oberpfaffenhofen. Thus computer resources, complex numerical computer models and a wealth of data will be immediately available to the UFS scientists to increase their long-term competitiveness.