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Research Aircraft Land in Australia

International measurement campaign on climate change begins

[12. November 2005]

Jülich/ Darwin 12 November 2005 - After their one-week journey, the Russian high-altitude research aircraft, Geophysica, and the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) research aircraft, Falcon, landed in Darwin on Saturday. This is the beginning of a spectacular research project on the influence of the tropics on global climate. Climate experts from Research Centre Jülich, ETH Zürich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology) and Cambridge University will lead an international measurement campaign (SCOUT- 03 Tropics) in North Australia from mid-November until mid-December. They will study tropical thunderclouds in order to find out more about the exchange of trace and greenhouse gases between the strata of the atmosphere.

One week ago, both research aircraft left Oberpfaffenhofen, packed full with a wide variety of measuring instruments. After stopovers in Cyprus, Arabia, India, Thailand and Borneo, they landed in Darwin on Saturday. "The difficult journey here was successful and is the first milestone in the success of the experiment", Dr. Cornelius Schiller, physicist at Research Centre Jülich and coordinator of the aircraft campaign in Australia, was delighted to report. "It would not have been possible without the commitment of the scientists and technicians, who accompanied the aircraft to each of these places. In particular, I would like to thank my colleagues Heinz Finkenzeller and Dr. Hans Schlager from DLR Oberpfaffenhofen und Dr. Fred Stroh from Jülich for their assistance in the logistics and scientific planning of these flights." The research aircrafts will begin their first measurement flight into Australian thunderclouds in the next fewdays.

At this time of year, gigantic thunderclouds that can reach up to an altitude of 20 kilometres appear almost daily on Darwin's doorstep. Scientists presume that here climate-relevant trace and pollutant gases are transported from the lower into the upper strata of the atmosphere in just a few hours and are globally distributed from there. Without these gigantic thunderclouds, the exchange of air in the equatorial region would be much slower. Many pollutants, which also contribute to ozone depletion, would therefore only arrive in the upper atmosphere (stratosphere) after years of delay.

Over 20 different trace gases will be determined by the atmosphere researchers during their measurement flights. The Jülich scientists are interested above all in the water content of the clouds, from which ice clouds form in atmospheres as cold as minus 80 degrees. These ice clouds have a strong influence on the radiative budget and thus the heat balance of the earth. Moreover, they work like a valve in that they determine how much water vapour can enter the stratosphere.

"The rapid exchange processes that take place in the tropics are the key to understanding how the ozone layer and the radiative budget in the stratosphere will change in the future", explains Cornelius Schiller. "Only when these processes can be explained will it be possible to predict how quickly or slowly the ozone layer will recover - a significant question for humankind but one that has remained open until now."

SCOUT-03 Tropics is one of the six scientific activities under the umbrella project, SCOUT-03. SCOUT-O3 (Stratosphere-Climate Links with Emphasis on the Upper Troposphere and Lower Stratosphere) has received € 15 million in funding from the EU. Taking part in the project are 59 institutes and over 100 teams of scientists from 19 countries. The research will be coordinated with the British project, ACTIVE, and the Australian-American project, TWP-ICE.

Contact for press:

Annette Stettien
Science Journalist
Forschungszentrum Jülich
52425 Jülich
Tel. 02461 61-2388, Fax 02461 61-4666