Romania’s observing climate change through laser technology

Newsroom 21/12/2011 | 12:48

Romania has gained visibility in the domain of climate change, through the Romanian Atmospheric 3D Research Observatory (RADO), built with the help of a Norwegian grant and inaugurated this October.

RADO, hosted by the National Institute of R&D for Optoelectronics (INOE 2000), in Magurele, near Bucharest, is the first research observatory in Romania which studies atmospheric processes and the largest in Eastern Europe. The observatory comprises of an observation network, a data center and a science center, and collects data from five measurement centers, 2 in Bucharest, and the rest in Iasi, Cluj and Timisoara. The resulting data is then correlated with European and international similar data networks.

“The building was constructed using co-financing for the project. Practically, the grant we obtained totaled EUR 2.4 million, a sum from Norway, representing 85 percent of the total project cost. The rest of 15 percent came from the National Authority for Scientific Research, representing EUR 440.000. This plus additional co-financing from or our institute help erect the building that represents the data and scientific center of the project. At large, the aim was building a scientific observatory for research, not for continuous monitoring, but for advanced studies on certain methodologies”, explained Doina Nicolae, the coordinator of the observatory.

Putting RADO at work

The observatory uses several equipments that are based on laser technology which aid researchers in developing new technologies for the aviation or weather forecasting areas, that may one day become functional. In fact, most of the Norwegian grant was used to acquiring equipment for the monitorisation units in the country. Romanian scientist can also collect and interpret data on the European prognoses for climate change.

The researchers were able to provide information on the ash cloud that originated from the Eyjafjallajökull volcano eruption in Iceland, during 2010. Were it not for the Romanian specialists, we wouldn’t have had the confirmation of measurements and the data helped the aviation industry. The observatory is also researching improved forecasting in wind and visibility, both crucial for aviation.

The 9 researcher based at the Observatory can also see layers of smoke from fires in Ukraine or Greece that get above Romania, during summer, but also the sand from Sahara dessert that can be traced in the upper atmosphere above Romania.

Future researchers, hard to come by

The monitoring stations of RADO that are placed in large cities of Romania are housed by Universities, allowing students to use the equipment and complete their theoretical background. Students involved in MSc or PhD programmes can receive practical training and access the infrastructure. However, fewer students are applying for science faculties.

“There are insufficient students for mathematics, physics and chemistry. The lack of interest in these subjects is the perception of students that there are few opportunities after graduation”, stated Anca Semuc, scientific researcher within the Observatory. Semuc considers that children in secondary school or teenagers should be exposed to experiments in physics, aside from the theoretical aspects, in a move that should popularize this subject more.

This is something that RADO is already doing as Doina Nicolae explains: “We acquired experimental areas where kids can come and play, such as tornado or lightning simulator and the interest was significant. It would be even better if the physics teacher held classes here. We allow the interaction with practical things to see the science different”

The research financing in on the edge

The RADO coordinator believes there is real competition in research, and only the best obtain contracts: “In order to secure the payment of salaries, we need to obtain research contracts, either launched by Romania or the EU”, stated Dina Nicolae, adding that only 4 percent of salaries originated from Romania, in the last three years. The rest came from European or international sources.

The state budget allocated 0.18 percent of GDP for research this year, from the record value of 0.3 percent recorded between 2007 and 2008. Meanwhile, the European Commission wants member states to allocate 3 percent of GDP in this area.

The building of the observatory also endangered the financial health of INOE 2000, the promoter of this project in Romania: “Even though we had acceptance for co-financing from Romanian authorities, the sum came later meaning that we had only 1 year to build the observatory instead of 2, putting additional pressure on the construction firm. The researchers planted trees, carried building materials, as we needed to fit in the deadline. We finally obtained the money, other projects were halted all together because the co-financing didn’t come at all”, stated Doina Nicolae, the person supervising the whole project.

Doina Nicolae concludes there is initiative and project quality in Romania, but the support received from authorities is simply not enough.

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