Novel data from the Artic and The North is needed to understand the changing climate.
European, Russian and Chinese scientific leaders and researchers in climate issues gathered only recently in Helsinki, Finland for a conference on the Pan-Eurasian Experiment (PEEX).
"Global warming and other comparable ecosystem changes have dramatic effects in the Arctic and the Boreal regions. These are the regions which we have very little information on," says the primus motor of the PEEX programme, Academy Professor Markku Kulmala.
PEEX is a multi-disciplinary, multi-decadal research programme for the Northern and the Arctic areas. It mostly involves basic research in the natural sciences, but is also expected to produce concrete and technical solutions for environmental problems. Since climate models are still in many respects incomplete, PEEX is intended to fill these gaps in our knowledge.
"In addition," says Kulmala, "we want to support the people whose livelihoods and culture are threatened by climate change. Their adaptation to the changes can be helped for example by improving devices and systems for early warning on extreme weather."
A chain of research stations from Scandinavia over Siberia to China
In order to understand the couplings between the atmosphere, the vegetation and the soil, measurement data with high regional coverage is required. The same applies to understanding feedbacks between climate and society. These data can be obtained, for example, from observation stations, or using remote sensing equipment such as satellites.
Therefore, one of the goals of PEEX is to build and equip an extensive chain of observation stations from Scandinavia, over Siberia, to China. In the early stage of this subproject, the plan is to focus on technical improvement and harmonizing of the existing observation stations, like the ones in Tiksi and Tomsk. The compatibility of all the stations of the planned network is of high importance.
Hundreds of physicists, chemists and bioscientists have participated in creating the PEEX programme. If the planned network of observation stations is realized, engineers, construction and logistics professionals will be needed, as well.
"A multi-disciplinary programme such as PEEX can only be carried out with the support of several governments," says Professor Sergej Zilitinkevich from the Finnish Meteorological Institute. Along with Kulmala, he is one of the driving forces of the PEEX programme.
"We hope that also the business community, individual companies and civil society will participate in PEEX," Zilitinkevich adds.
Several world-wide science organizations like IIASA (International Institute for Applied System Analysis) and IEAS (the International Eurasian Academy of Sciences) have already joined PEEX.
An investment comparable to CERN
The scale and possible results of the PEEX project can be compared to the founding of the European particle physics research center CERN 60 years ago.
"The total cost of PEEX will be hundreds of millions of euros. Building a single observation station costs about twenty million euros, and then the maintenance and personnel costs are not included. CERN was also, and still is, a huge investment, but then, it has produced more than expected -- both in terms of scientific criteria, and in terms of commercial applications," reminds Kulmala.
"In PEEX, we are truly charting the unknown. We only have an inkling about atmospheric phenomena on the molecular and atomic scales, and often not even that. And perhaps we are not even asking the right questions, yet."
The atmospheric science research group led by Kulmala has already achieved a lot: Markku Kulmala is the world's most highly cited geoscientist, and many of the results of his group have been published in journals such as Science and Nature.
The group has built five observation stations in Finland. The most famous one is located in Hyytiälä. In addition, one station has been constructed in Järvselja in Estonia, and another in Nanjing in China. The observation stations are high-technology laboratories placed in the field in order to measure material and energy flows in the environment, such as radiation or the exchange of gases by plants.
Building on its' basic research, Markku Kulmala's group has also developed industrial applications such as particle counters.
Kulmala's group includes physicists and chemists, as well as biological and social scientists, from all over the world. Kulmala himself works as a professor of physics at the University of Helsinki.
More information can be found at: http://www.atm.helsinki.fi/peex/
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