Terra. The home of 7.4 billion people and 1.7 million species. Between us and the cosmic space, no barrier. Only ATMOSPHERE. There is not much air. Compared to the size of the globe, the atmosphere is very thin. That’s why everything that happens on Earth affects it dramatically.
A sandy storm occurs in the Sahara, but dust particles are transported thousands of meters above sea level and reach Romania. A small volcano erupts in Iceland and ash crosses Europe, hurting air traffic. The eruption of the Pinatubo volcano in the Philippines in June 1991 caused a global temperature drop of 0.4 to 0.5 degrees Celsius over the next two years, acid rain, floods along the Mississippi River and drought in the Sahel region.
Over the natural phenomena, which mankind still does not control, overlap the effects of human activities. We drive cars, we throw carbon dioxide and other gases on the exhaust pipes. We use refrigerators, chemicals, electronic devices. Power plants disperse all sorts of pollutants.
All this comes into the atmosphere. They do not disappear, they mix in the air. Sometimes they are transported over thousands of kilometers. The effects they have are not just immediate and direct, for example the quality of the air we breathe, but also indirect, in the long run, by changing the energy received from the sun. The amount and quality of solar radiation coming to Earth depends directly on the type and concentration of these constituents that absorb and scatter light differently.
Although they do not seem significant at first glance, these contributions can bring the atmosphere to a definitive imbalance, because they are constantly growing, because they accumulate and exceed the natural regeneration power. Scientists look at these things and study the changes and correlations between them.
We began to understand where the atmosphere changes, how it changes and what causes it. Decision makers and the media often state that climate science is very uncertain. They suggest that there is still a pros and cons debate in the scientific world about the influence that human factor has on climate change. But this is not the case.
The scientific consensus is clearly expressed in the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Created in 1998 by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Program, the IPCC develops scenarios based on data published by tens of thousands of researchers around the world. According to these scenarios, the most likely increase in global average will be 3 degrees Celsius in the next 100 years, provided that greenhouse gas emissions remain at the level of 2000.
Three degrees do not seem much, and yet they will dramatically change the world: glaciers will almost disappear; the sea level will be 0.5 m higher, for example the US coast will be swallowed completely by the waters; around the world, 100 million people will be displaced; a quarter of the plant and animal species will disappear; Asia and Africa will be exposed to prolonged droughts, fires and famines; serious floods will ruin Europe; hurricanes and devastating tornadoes will scatter coastal areas.
To determine precisely which scenario is most likely, scientists must first understand the processes that produce these changes in depth, collect data, analyze them, try to imitate physical processes with real processes and then design them future. The extremely complex and dynamic structure of the atmosphere can not, however, be included in equations so easily.
Always remain unknown that introduce errors. Because we are not just talking about the air near the ground. Even if at first sight it matters most, because here we live and breathe, many of the phenomena that indirectly affect our lives (such as weather phenomena) occur much higher, at kilometres altitude. The atmosphere is a constantly changing three-dimensional system.
Therefore, the intense and long-term observation of a multitude of parameters such as temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide and methane concentration, ozone, water vapor, particulates, wind fields is today an important concern of space agencies NASA, ESA and JAXA), which are collaborating to launch new space missions to explore the atmosphere, as well as missions for exploring space.
The Sentinel satellite series, space missions ADM-Aeolus or EarthCARE are just a few of the European Space Agency’s plans to “take a look” on the concentrations of gas emitted by the industry as well as aerosols and clouds that, although seem harmless to at first glance, plays a crucial role in changing precipitation.
Generation generation by generation, satellites carry on board increasingly sophisticated instruments, with increasing resolution, allowing on the one hand objective identification of sources of pollution (and thus respecting the “polluter pays” principle), and on the other hand, quantifying the physical and optical properties of atmospheric compounds that predispose the slower or faster heating of the climate in the future.
Any technology in space has first been developed in ground laboratories. Moreover, no observation instrument on board a satellite can have the strength, stability and complexity of one on the ground. Satellites have limited resources in terms of power supply, weight and space available. In addition, there is no one up there to repair a tool that does not work properly. So any space mission of this type is based on ground observations for verification and validation, which are considered as reference.
In this chapter, atmospheric observatories, or geographically distributed measuring stations, which play high-precision equipment such as lane and radar systems, photometers, spectrometers or radiometers of various types, play an important role. In Europe, such a great observer is ACTRIS ( A erosol, C louds and T race gases R esearch I nfra s STRUCTURE).
ACTRIS is organized as a federation of national networks bringing together various top atmospheric research facilities, as well as central facilities – the Data Center and five Calibration Centers – which coordinate and integrate infrastructure activities. The value of the ACTRlS infrastructure at the operational stage is estimated at 450 million euros, with an annual turnover of about 50 million euros.
Romania contributes to ACTRIS through:
- three observation stations in Magurele multi-tool (National Institute of Optoelectronics – INOE), Cluj-Napoca (UBB) and let (University Alexandru Ioan Cuza), part of Romanian Atmospheric Observatory – RADO;
- two laboratories specialized in the Lidar Calibration Center (operated by INOE);
- the ATMOSLAB airborne platform equipped with specific instruments for atmospheric studies (operated by the National Aerospace Research Institute Elie Carafoli);
- a simulation room for physicochemical processes in the atmosphere, part of EUROCHAMP (operated by Alexandru loan Cuza University).
Moreover, Romania has, through the institutions involved, a leading position in the ACTRIS infrastructure: it coordinates the calibration centers and the data center; operates a unique super-site in Eastern Europe (Atmosphere and Radiation Site); operates the only airborne platform in ACTRIS.
Teams of young and enthusiastic people made it possible for the Romanian research in the field to reach the world level in only ten years. These teams are involved in technology development projects for observing Essential Climate Variables, intensive or long-term campaigns for the calibration and validation of satellite data tools and products, algorithm development and software for determining from optical data physical and chemical parameters of atmospheric compounds, studies on the impact of these compounds on the climate, optimization of pollutant transport patterns and forecasting by assimilation of observational data, risk and impact assessment studies. Most of these activities are carried out under European Horizon 2020 projects and contracts with the European Space Agency.
During this fantastic journey to success, we at RADO have learned that passion can contradict the rules of probability. So, to those who are still skeptical, we must remember that Terra is our only option for the time being, and that, as a result, we can not afford to do anything to keep it habitable.
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Technology of The Future – Romanian point of view