BRUSSELS, Belgium, November 3, 2005 (ENS) - The European Commission and the Italian cruise line Costa Crociere have launched a new way of monitoring human generated pollution of the atmosphere that the Commission says is essential to improving understanding of climate change.
The holiday guests cruising the Mediterranean will probably never see it, but an automatic air pollution monitoring station has been placed on board the Costa Crociere ship 'Costa Fortuna' which follows a regular cruise route in the western Mediterranean basin during spring, summer and autumn.
The monitoring station will provide new information on over-sea measurements, which are rarely taken, and improve understanding of the effects of pollution on climate change,
The dry and warm Mediterranean climate is one of the reasons why millions of tourists like to spend their holidays in Southern Europe. However, the warming climate conditions, though pleasant for holidaymakers, may cause increasing problems for agriculture, ecosystems and drinking water resources.
Model calculations suggest that the impact of atmospheric greenhouse gases from human sources will further reduce rainfall in the area, thus leading to enhanced drought problems.
In fact, the trend observed in the last century in this area has been towards lower rainfall.
In the Mediterranean Basin, air pollution comes from urban centers along the coast, from long-range transport and from intense shipping traffic.
Beside the long-lasting greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, short-lived air pollutants such as ozone in the lower atmosphere and light absorbing black carbon particles known as aerosols seem to cause the absorption of solar radiation in the atmosphere.
Aerosols are minute particles suspended in the atmosphere. Research has shown that the impact of aerosols on radiation in this area is among the highest in the world, making the Mediterranean an ideal study site for climate research.
Scientists believe that the heating of the lower atmosphere, caused by the enhanced absorption of light due to air pollution, can reduce rain clouds and thus intensify droughts.
Pollution from the stacks of ships at sea has been seen to modify the low-lying clouds above them. These changes in the cloud droplets, due to the sulfate aerosols from the ships, have been seen in pictures from weather satellites as a track through a layer of clouds.
Aerosols also may provide a cooling effect. In addition to making the clouds more reflective, scientists believe that the additional aerosols cause polluted clouds to last longer and reflect more sunlight than non-polluted clouds.
EU Commissioner for Research Janez Potocnik said, 'This partnership is a good example of the private and public sectors working together to find new ways of obtaining data which is important for our understanding of climate change.'
The new automatic air pollution monitoring station installed by the European Commission’s DG Joint Research Centre on the 'Costa Fortuna' will provide some of the data that is needed by scientists to check whether their computer models of the atmosphere can be confirmed by real observations.
Potocnik says the research findings will enable the European Commission and the EU member states to improve their climate change and air pollution policies.