Project Virtual Alpine Observatory

The “Virtual Alpine Observatory” network connects the climate and environmental observations of Alpine high altitude research stations

Climate change is affecting our environment, not least in the sensitive Alpine region. Which parameters of the earth’s natural system are particularly affected? What impact is this having on the region? Many geophysical and chemical processes can be investigated particularly well there because of the exposed location. Clean air, the absence of artificial light pollution, the high altitude and other factors create excellent conditions for high-quality measurements, to help us better understand the diverse processes in the earth’s natural system. At the instigation of the environmental research station Schneefernerhaus (UFS) on the Zugspitze mountain, the “Virtual Alpine Observatory” (VAO) network pools the research activities of Alpine high-altitude research stations in Italy, France, Switzerland, Austria, Slovenia, Norway, Georgia and Germany. According to the Bavarian Minister of the Environment Ulrike Scharf, the aim of the network is to serve as an instrument of cross-border research on climate change and its consequences.

The scientists plan to achieve this by stepping up cooperation in terms of research content, but also by merging existing and future measurement data in a central Alpine Environmental Data Analysis Centre (AlpEnDAC). The networking of AlpEnDAC with the World Data Centre for Remote Sensing of the Atmosphere in Oberpfaffenhofen (WDC-RSAT) and the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre in Garching (LRZ) allows access to other relevant data (such as satellite-based measurements) and complex numerical computer models. “Through transnational and multidisciplinary cooperation, we can find detailed answers to scientific questions in a way that would not have been possible without this infrastructure,” explains Professor Michael Bittner, VAO project coordinator and chairman of the UFS Science Team. This concerns information needed by the tourism, water, energy, insurance and healthcare sectors, but also by policy-makers.

The Bavarian State Ministry of the Environment and Consumer Protection is supporting this cooperation of high-altitude research stations by funding the R&D collaborative project “Expansion and internationalisation of the Virtual Alpine Observatory (VAOII)”. It is funding the 16 German partners with more than €3 million for almost four years. The main priorities of the R&D project are the subjects of atmosphere, the Alpine environment and the Alpine water balance.

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