Brussels, 24 Jul 2003
The European Commission is funding new research aimed at assessing the contribution of high altitude polar clouds to ozone depletion as part of a wider campaign to improve understanding and forecasting of ozone destruction.
The MAPSCORE project is funded under the energy, environment and sustainable development section of the Fifth Framework Programme, and has, for the first time, enabled researchers to map the location of high altitude polar clouds online and in near real time. This was made possible thanks to the use of the European Space Agency's environmental monitoring satellite, ENVISAT.
The chlorine present in the polar stratosphere, which covers an altitude 12 to 28 kilometres, is released from the surface of the clouds, and the subsequent exposure of the chlorine to sunlight causes rapid destruction of ozone. However, an idea of the quantity and extent of such clouds in the polar stratosphere is needed before their impact can be accurately predicted, something that ENVISAT has enabled.
The coordinator of the MAPSCORE project is Dr John Remedios from the University of Leicester in the UK, who says: 'ENVISAT makes it possible for us to map polar stratospheric clouds [PSCs] in 'near real time' for the first time. [...] This information guides our atmospheric modelling of how these PSCs form and their influence. This is important because we need to be able to predict how much ozone will be depleted in future years, and PSCs are a key part of the problem.'
The findings of the MAPSCORE project will feed into a wider Commission ozone strategy, as Dr Remedios explains: '[W]e are participating very actively in the latest European Commission campaign, 'Vintersol', which rallies over 300 scientists from over 14 European countries to tackle the problem of measuring and understanding the causes of mid altitude ozone depletion, and to predict future ozone levels.'
Stratospheric ozone levels over Europe have been decreasing at a rate of six per cent per decade, leading to higher levels of ultra violet radiation at ground level. Information from the MAPSCORE project will enable researchers working on Vintersol to identify future ozone trends and determine whether Europeans will face an increased health risk in the future.