Climatologist on the high seat

From the tower, scientists are researching interactions between climate change and greenhouse gases

Geographical location of ZOTTO: The measuring station in the Siberian taiga is located about 500 km northwest of Krasnoyarsk, the nearest major city. © Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry
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Today, climate researchers move to new workplaces 300 meters above the Siberian taiga: the measuring tower of the international climate research station ZOTTO ("Zotino Tall Tower Observation Facility"). Here, they investigate how increasing global temperatures and greenhouse gases influence each other and thus close a gap between satellite data and soil measurements.

The cause of climate change is controversial - but human beings are likely to be significantly responsible for global warming. By using fossil fuels and intensive agriculture, it releases large quantities of the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. However, reliable studies on the long-term evolution of greenhouse gases in large areas are still lacking. For example, it is not yet possible to predict how the rising temperatures will affect the global carbon cycle and thus increase climate change.

Key region in the global carbon cycle

It is precisely these interactions that scientists from the Max Planck Institutes of Biogeochemistry and Chemistry and the Russian Sukachev Forest Institute will be examining in the future with the "Zotino Tall Tower Observation Facility" (ZOTTO). The research station is secluded in the Siberian taiga near the town of Zotino - in a region that is increasingly influenced by man, for example through forest clearance. Adjacent cities, whose greenhouse gas emissions could distort the measurements, are not there.

The boreal and Arctic land masses of Siberia are regarded as a "hotspot" in the global carbon cycle: in the Siberian coniferous forests about ten percent of the world's carbon binds. However, in recent decades, the average summer temperatures of large areas of Siberia have risen by up to two degrees Celsius - and climate simulations predict a further increase. Meteorologists expect that this global warming will gradually change the Siberian carbon cycle. Zotino is therefore particularly well suited to investigate interactions between greenhouse gases and global warming.

Measurements in the "Mixed Layer"

With the 300-meter-high measuring tower - the height of the Eiffel Tower without an antenna - the Max Planck scientists are launching into a new sphere of the earth's atmosphere: the "mixed layer", an air layer about 200 to 2, 000 meters high. "There we can record large-scale changes in greenhouse gases and monitor their exchange near the earth's surface, " says Ernst-Detlef Schulze, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry, who has led the construction of ZOTTO in recent years. display

Measuring tower of the research station ZOTTO Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry

The height of the tower allows researchers to collect more reliable climate data. Because the relatively homogeneous air layer of the mixed layer hides the background noise of the ground vegetation: There, the carbon dioxide concentration varies due to highly pronounced day-night cycles of plant photosynthesis. The different processes are then relatively difficult to separate. Another advantage of high temperatures: they allow measurements in the vertical profile over the tower height.

Measuring points closed

With ZOTTO, scientists can thus explore both large-scale and local exchange processes between the cosystem of Siberia and the atmosphere. The station thus closes a scaling gap in the continental measuring system. To date, studies have been based solely on locally limited process studies or remote sensing with space satellites. In addition to meteorological parameters, such as wind and moisture, ZOTTO mainly measures the concentrations and mixing ratios of the various greenhouse gases. However, scientists do not expect short-term results. Because the continental climate of Siberia is subject to strong temperature fluctuations. Researchers therefore need to collect data over many years in order to reliably model long-term interactions between global warming and greenhouse gases.

(MPG, 28.09.2006 - NPO)