Questions in clouds

Jean-Francois Gayet, the professor with the laboratory of atmospheric physics in the city of Clermont-Ferrand in France was on a visit in Minsk at the invitation of the National Academy of Science of Belarus. Together with his Belarusian colleagues from the Institute of Physics named after B.I.Stepanov, the French expert was participating in the international project that aims at studying clouds and earth atmosphere
“Our cooperation is not limited to exchange of scientific data. We are establishing personal contacts between the participants of the project,” Jean-Francois said.

“Now I’m visiting my Belarusian friend Valery Shcherbakov, who has already been to Clermont-Ferrand”. Mr. Gayet notes that the scientists from the Belarusian Institute of Physics have a high status in the international scientific world, moreover, they operate on a very high technical level.
How was the Belarusian-French cooperation established and what is the joint project aimed at?

Valery Shcherbakov, the Doctor of Physical-Mathematical Sciences and the senior research assistant with the Institute of Physics of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus, together with his colleagues from the laboratory of diffusing medium optics have gained access to unique information on clouds composition. That became possible after the National Academy of Science of Belarus and the French National Center of Scientific Research signed an agreement about scientific and technical cooperation in 2003. In 2004 eleven best projects that were mutually beneficial for both parties were chosen. Among them was a project aimed at studying clouds.

According to Shcherbakov, research of clouds composition gives answers to a burning question that challenges researchers of the whole world: whether we are going to face climate warming, or not. Scientists believe that clouds are able “to answer” this question as they make a considerable influence on climate formation. Clouds reflect sunlight and simultaneously create a greenhouse effect that helps to sustain the temperature balance in the planet. The weather is also affected by so-called anthropogenic clouds that are formed due to traffic of planes.

Valery shows me some photos of the sky above France. It is marked with many white lines, or vapor trails of airplanes. The scientist explains that the sky scenery like this is very common in many countries. If one takes the map of Europe and studies it, it is possible to find out that a large number of overcast days is observed on the territories along the international air routes. By the way, clouds are the best means to transfer pollutions.

Institutes need specific equipment to study clouds. Research campaigns are conducted twice a year in Clermont-Ferrand with the help of a German flight-bench called Falcon. The plane is equipped with scientific instruments that are installed not only on its board, but also under the wings. According to Shcherbakov, the plane flies under clouds and in clouds on different levels. It takes measurements in order to provide scientists with data to study the layers of clouds composition.

“Between 15 and 18 flights are made per month, every one lasts for about four hours,” the scientist says, “we study the peculiarities of air pollutions, scattering effect of light on ice particles and some other characteristics of clouds. We get enormous data arrays that are to be processed and well integrated in order to be used further.” Belarusian physicists are very good at conducting this thorough work. They use modern physical and mathematical methods and programming.

“Starting from April 2006 five French and American meteorological satellites have been operating in the framework of the project. The satellites are equipped with up-to-date facilities. All satellites are moving in one and the same orbit,” the specialist says. Almost simultaneously they measure different atmosphere parameters, including temperature, air humidity, transparency, gas and chemical composition of air, etc. Then cloud cover content of the earth is studied. Measurements are made in space, on the ground and from planes. Thus experts have enough data to achieve objective results taking into consideration all distortions and allowances. That is the main idea of the project.

The scientific matter is very valuable and may be efficiently used to control transboundary air-pollution transfer. Valeriy Shcherbakov is sure that this cooperation is of great benefit both to the Belarusian and the French scientists.

by Ivan Ivanov
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