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The University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU) is one the bodies involved in the European CIRCE project on impact of climate change on the Mediterranean and working jointly with the Spanish Consolider project, GRACCIE, which is drawing up a research consortium to work on gradual and abrupt climate changes. The UPV/EHU input is from the Atmosphere Research Group at the Higher Technical Engineering School in Bilbao. Under the direction of Mr Lucio Alonso, the members of the Atmosphere Research Group team have been carrying out research work together for 25 years and have always been pioneers in their field.
"We deal with everything that has to do with atmospheric contamination and the study of the atmosphere, including the climate", explained Mr Lucio Alonso. This has meant them applying techniques for measuring atmospheric contamination, acquisition of and learning to interpret meteorological data and developing measuring instruments for their research.
One of the challenges of the group is to train technical experts and scientists specialised in the matter, through Masters' degrees in Environmental Engineering and Environmental Management Technologies at the UPV/EHU itself. But, apart from this training, they are currently immersed in two research projects on climate change. The first is CIRCE (Climate Change and Impact Research: The Mediterranean Environment), a project within the remit of The Sixth European Framework Programme which is to finish in 2011 and in which atmospheric dynamics and progress of atmospheric contamination in the Mediterranean are being studied. The second is GRACCIE (Multidisciplinary Research Consortium on Gradual and Abrupt Climate Changes and their Impacts on the Environment), a Consolider Ingenio 2010 project being led by the Spanish Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientficas (CSIC), to finish in 2012 and aimed at studying gradual and abrupt climate changes and their impact on the environment.
The Mediterranean and extreme phenomena
The CIRCE project is investigating the Mediterranean, given that this is a critical zone for the study of climate change and its effects. The Atmosphere Research Group at the UPV/EHU is working on two parts of the project: the first is on atmospheric flows and the second on precipitations. Mr Alonsos work focuses, above all, on the first: "The work I have done is to look at satellite data for evidence that there is a special system of circulation in the atmosphere above the Mediterranean that causes the accumulation of humidity". Accumulation of humidity and that of contaminants go hand in hand. "The cycles of re-circulation produce accumulation of contaminants, at least in the western basin. And, if contaminants accumulate, water vapour can also accumulate and, in this way, evidence for this manner of accumulation can be sought from satellite data. This evidence has been found in data recorded by various NASA satellites and with it a database has been created which gathers information from 2000 until 2008.
As regards the second part -precipitations-, they studied, amongst other things, the sources of water vapour that have caused some of the most important torrential rains and droughts. Of particular interest was the origin of the floods occurring over a number of summers in Poland and Germany. Mr Alonso believes that behind these there is "an accumulative process": small local changes caused by humans and which, when taken together, have triggered changes at continental and global scales.
As far as the other project -GRACCIE- is concerned, the Atmosphere Research Group researches into the effects of gradual and abrupt climate changes, especially in Iberian Peninsula. "It is going to be colder and it is going to be hotter, there will be more droughts and more floods, although the annual results will be more or less the same, they will happen in a different manner". Also in this project are the specialities of the Group: atmospheric contamination and meteorology. They studied the sources of water vapour again. Moreover, they studied the importation and exportation of dust from the Sahara and the extreme meteorological events that occur and will occur in the Autonomous Community of the Basque Country, and they gathered data to investigate the local effects of climate change. As regards atmospheric contamination, they measured a number of elements that give rise to it.
Prior to these two projects by the Atmosphere Research Group at the UPV/EHU, they had worked on many other things - they have always been pioneers. They registered their first patents when they calculated the distance travelled by factory smoke, using stereophotogrammetry. This technique involves taking photographs of two locations simultaneously, with common cameras: "You follow the part of the plume that is visible and you find out where it rises to".
Then came more ideas. For example, meteorological research using captive or free weather balloons, equipped with radio probes and sensors for ozone, pressure, humidity and temperature. The radar wind profiler at Punta Galea was also a first in Europe, installed by the Basque Meteorological Service - under the guidance of the Atmosphere Research Group. It is a radar/sodar equipment that obtains profiles of wind and temperature up to 3000 m high. Then there is the system for the measurement of volatile organic compounds, measuring the concentration of many of these contaminants in the atmosphere. The first unit was purchased by the Basque Government, on the request of Mr Alonso's group, "when there was not one in the whole of Spain". The same group developed systems of feeding, purifying and cleaning of gases and protocols for the quality control of data.
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