Scientists at Alps trying to unravel climate change

Last Updated: Tuesday, August 25, 2009 - 10:28

Jungfraujoch: Agatha Christie fans may remember Hercule Poirot solving a murder at the highest station of a Swiss funicular railway as heavy snowfall isolated it from the rest of the world. Atop a funicular here, similarly isolated scientists are probing another mystery -- why the earth`s climate is changing -- and they would welcome collaboration with India.
Daily tourists to this spot known as the `Top of Europe` are left agape when they learn that at any point in time around 1,200 scientists from around the world actually live and work at the International Foundation High Altitude Research Station here, 3,500 metres above sea level.

Specifically, they study global warming, and why it does not snow so heavily over here any more.

"The strategic location of Jungfraujoch makes it unique, as it`s the only place in Europe to measure troposphere (layer of atmosphere) without any pollution," Erwin Fluckiger, director of the foundation, said.

"With the large-scale growth of threat to environment, the research station becomes more important in today`s world," he added.

"We would be glad to invite scientists and researchers from India to take benefit of our nice laboratories and infrastructure to investigate the changes in environment. Till now, we have not hosted scientists from India, but many Indian scientists representing other countries have worked here," said Fluckiger.

Started in 1931, the foundation of international repute is dedicated to providing infrastructure and support for scientific research carried out at an altitude of 3,000-3,500 metres above sea level and for which a high alpine environment is necessary.

The research station was built thanks to the construction of the Jungfrau railway in 1912, enabling scientists to carry out experiments at the great heights of the Alps and understand the environment better.

The first study carried out here was on the interaction between cosmic ray particles and atomic nuclei in the atmosphere.

The research station and Sphinx laboratory are mainly dedicated to environmental science, which forms 62 percent of its work. Right from measuring air quality, to measuring components of the atmosphere, the station provides enormous scope to find the changes in environment at a high altitude spot.

Large-scale studies on atmospheric aerosols, water vapour and temperature are going on now. Other subjects of research at the station include meteorology, glaciology, medicine and astrophysics.

According to research done at Jungfraujoch, the surface of alpine glaciers in Europe has decreased by 50 percent between 1850 and 2000.

The scientists here have determined this by comparing photographs of the glaciers at various points of time.

Citing the example of Grosser Aletsch Glet glacier, at 22 km the longest in Europe, Fluckiger said there was a huge decrease in its elevation between 1856 and 2008.

"Once the glacier had a huge river of ice and now there is no ice formation any more," he said, indicating two photographs of the glacier depicting its structure in 1856 and 2008.

Member countries of the foundation include Belgium, Germany, Britain, Austria and Switzerland.


First Published: Tuesday, August 25, 2009 - 10:28

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