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Funding Awarded for Research on Aerosol Composition in the Upper Atmosphere

Wed, 10/31/2012 - 2:07pm
Universität Mainz

Professor Dr. Stephan Borrmann with a laser optical cloud particle measuring instrument (photo/©: Stephan Borrmann)Dr. Stephan Borrmann has received a grant of EUR 2.75 million from the European Research Council (ERC) for research into the chemical composition of aerosols and clouds in the upper atmosphere. The ERC Advanced Grant is one the most highly regarded funding measures of the European Union (EU), which is awarded to individual outstanding researchers. Borrmann is professor at the Institute of Atmospheric Physics at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz and Director at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz.

The project "In-situ experiments on the chemical composition of high altitude aerosols and clouds in the tropical upper troposphere and lower stratosphere" (EXCATRO) will be funded for five years starting in 2013. The aim of the project is to examine the layer of the upper troposphere and the lower stratosphere above the tropics and the subtropics – at an altitude of 14 to 21 kilometers. The project will focus on aerosols, i.e., tiny solid or liquid particles in the air. Borrmann and his team will take several aircraft-based measurements in this atmospheric layer. Research flights in such heights are a major technological challenge, and only a few have been carried out yet.

"Clouds and aerosols are the most important but least understood components in the entire climate system. In the extremely dynamic layer at the gateway of the upper troposphere to the lower stratosphere they have an impact on the global atmosphere and our climate, particularly in the tropics," explains Borrmann.

Aerosols are generated by natural processes over deserts and oceans, for example, and also in vegetation. Other major contributing factors are anthropogenic emissions, such as the burning of fossil fuels and biomass. It is known that the aerosol particles in the tropics are transported into the lower
stratosphere by upward air currents. Once they enter the lower stratosphere, they are slowly distributed globally. In the polar regions, they form the so-called polar stratospheric clouds, which then contribute to ozone depletion and destruction. "To determine the effect of aerosols for example in climate models and on the chemistry of the atmosphere, we need not only to understand their composition. We also need to know where exactly the particles arise from, whether they are of human origin or result from natural processes," adds Borrmann.

Within the five-year ERC Advanced Grant project, Professor Dr. Stephan Borrmann will develop special fully automated aerosol analyzers. They can then be used aboard the former Russian spy plane M-55 Geophysica, which has been reconstructed into a high-altitude research aircraft. Geophysica and a NASA research aircraft are the only high-altitude research aircrafts that can reach heights of up to 21 kilometers.

ERC Advanced Grants are awarded to outstanding scientists to conduct projects that are considered to be highly speculative due to their innovative approach, but which, because of this, can open up new paths in the respective research area. The grant is awarded to excellent researchers who already have a track record of significant research achievements and who have worked for at least ten years successfully at the highest international level. The only criteria considered when deciding to award ERC funding are the scientific excellence of the researchers in question and the nature of their research projects. An ERC Advanced Grant thus represents recognition of the recipient’s individual work.

For more information visit www.uni-mainz.de.

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