Some 150 high-ranking European representatives of government, industry, research and environmental protection entities met on 29 June 2017 in Brussels to discuss the risks associated with climate change and possible courses of action. In this context the strategy of the "Virtual Alpine Observatory" (VAO) was introduced for the first time to the public. The VAO strategy contains 11 challenges that focus on urgent questions facing scientists in the next ten years.
Prof. Michael Bittner, a scientist at EOC and chairman of the VAO steering committee, presented a copy of the VAO strategy to Ulrike Scharf, Bavarian State Minister of the Environment and Consumer Protection, to Dr. Andrea Tilche, European Commission Director General for Research and Innovation, and to Dr. Jiří Buriánek, General Secretary of the European Committee of the Regions.
From left to right: Ms Wettach, Wirtschaftswoche (moderator); Dr Hürkamp, Helmholtzzentrum München; Mr Tilche, European Commission Director General for Research and Innovation; Ms Scharf, Bavarian State Minister of the Environment and Consumer Protection; Dr Jiří Buriánek, General Secretary of the European Committee of the Regions; Prof. Bittner, DLR-DFD; Dr. Lützenkirchen, Vice President Environmental Protection Siemens Munich; Dr. Schianski, Siemens Re © StmUV Bavaria.
The event took place at the invitation of the Bavarian State Ministry of the Environment and Consumer Protection on the premises of the Bavarian Representation to the European Union.
With the consequences of climate change for the Alpine region in mind, recommendations for action are based on in-depth understanding of complex environmental processes. The Virtual Alpine Observatory, a network primarily consisting of alpine high-altitude research stations, plays a strategic role. As a member of the Schneefernerhaus Virtual Institute on the Zugspitze mountain (UFS), scientists from the DLR institutes DFD, IMF and IPA have participated in the last few years in creating a research association for the Alpine region: the Virtual Alpine Observatory, VAO.
Observatories, research institutions and universities as well as computer centres and data archives in France, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, Austria and Slovenia participate in this research association. Allied facilities exist in Norway and Georgia. In keeping with the guiding principle, "together we can accomplish more than the sum of our individual contributions", the partners aspire to investigate complex problems relating to the Alpine portion of earth system research.
"The synergies we generate from our international interdisciplinary cooperation make it possible for us to develop and formulate especially comprehensive and therefore long-term problem-solving approaches. We address the urgent problems relating to global climate change that confronting scientists and society with a coordinated research approach and our expertise. Our guiding principle is to combine resources and use synergies so that we can jointly achieve in the shortest time possible more than we could if we were each working alone. On the whole, that also strengthens our capacity to compete at the international level", Bittner emphasizes.
The processes in the atmosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere and cryosphere are interlinked and there is significant human intervention. Changes in the environmental order also have an influence on human welfare. For that reason there is international and interdisciplinary cooperation among the scientists, technicians and medical doctors who participate in VAO.
Research on the alpine environmental system is especially interesting because the Alps are one of the earth’s regions that are strongly affected by climate change. Since 1900 the temperature in the Alps has increased by about 2.0 degrees Celsius—almost twice as much as the European average of 1.2 degrees Celsius. Mean global warming is about 0.8 degrees Celsius.
DLR participates in the Virtual Alpine Observatory through the high-alpine environmental research station Schneefernerhaus, where it conducts research on monitoring possible changes in atmospheric dynamics caused by climate change. Scientists from the German Remote Sensing Data Center (DFD) are particularly investigating the upper mesosphere and the lower thermosphere at some 80 to 100 kilometres altitude, since these areas are extremely sensitive to change. The DLR Institute of Atmospheric Physics focuses on radar measurements of physical parameters characterizing clouds and precipitation. DLR is also concerned with possible health effects of climate change and collaborates with partners to find ways to optimize health services. In addition to research at the Zugspitze, DFD operates the "World Data Center for Remote Sensing of the Atmosphere" (WDC-RSAT) in Oberpfaffenhofen. This facility serves as a joint data and analysis platform for the VAO research stations and is part of the "Alpine Environmental Data Analysis Center" (AlpEnDAC), which is being successively expanded into an environmental information system for the alpine region. This is being accomplished in cooperation with the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre, UFS GmbH, bifa GmbH, and the holder of the Chair of Atmospheric Research at the Institute of Physics at Augsburg University, who manages the project.
As became evident in the discussions in Brussels, climate data from the Virtual Alpine Observatory offer a scientific basis for political and business decisions. As part of the European Alpine Convention, VAO will continue to be an important instrument for adapting and implementing the EU Strategy for the Alpine Region (EUSALP).
A special feature of the conference was an agreement to expand scientific cooperation between DFD and the Abastumani Astrophysical Observatory in Georgia, in the South Caucasus, on issues relating to extreme weather and health. Cooperation in airglow research with Tbilisi State University has already existed for many years. The data that is collected daily with DFD‘s GRIPS equipment in the Caucasus can be viewed via WDC-RSAT.
From left to right: Prof. Didebulidze Goderzi, University of Tiflis, Bavarian State Minister Ulrike Scharf, doctoral candidate Lisa Küchelbacher, Prof. Michael Bittner © StmUV Bavaria.