Tag Archives: research

ESA: understanding of snow

Estimating the amount of seasonal snow is important for understanding the water cycle and Earth’s climate system, but establishing a clear and coherent picture of change has proven difficult. New research from ESA’s Climate Change Initiative has helped to produce the first reliable estimate of snow mass change and has helped to identify different continental trends.

Warming surface temperatures are known to have driven substantial reductions in the extent and duration of northern hemisphere snow cover. Equally important, but much less well understood is snow mass – the amount of water held in the snow pack – and how it has changed over time.

Millions of people rely on snow meltwaters for power, irrigation and drinking water. More accurate snow mass information would not only help to assess the availability of freshwater resources and identify flood risk, but also enable the better assessment of the role seasonal snow plays in the climate system.

In a new paper, published in Nature, researchers from the Finnish Meteorological Institute (FMI) and the Environment and Climate Change Canada, working as part of ESA’s Climate Change Initiative, have reliably estimated the amount of annual snow mass and changes in snow cover in the northern hemisphere between 1980 and 2018. Their research shows that snow mass has remained the same in Eurasia and has decreased in North America, but the extent of snow cover has decreased in both regions.

The combined 39-year snow mass climate data record is based on passive microwave satellite observations combined with ground-based snow depth measurements. This allowed the team to narrow the annual maximum snow mass for the northern hemisphere to 3062 gigatonnes between 1980-2018, with the peak snow mass occurring in March, while previous estimates ranged from 2500-4200 gigatonnes.

The team used this method, which corrects any anomalies in the data, and compared them to estimates from the Global Snow Monitoring for Climate Research, also known as GlobSnow, with three independent estimates of snow mass.

Jouni Pulliainen, the paper’s lead author and Research Professor at FMI, says, “The method can be used to combine different observations and it provides more accurate information about the amount of snow than ever before. The previous considerable uncertainty of 33% in the amount of snow has decreased to 7.4%.”

The research team found little reduction in northern hemisphere snow mass over the four decades of satellite observations when looking at the annual maximum amount of snow at the turn of February-March.

However, the more reliable estimates enabled the team to identify different continental trends. For example, snow mass decreased by 46 gigatonnes per decade across North America. This was not reflected in Eurasia, but high regional variability was observed.

Jouni continues, “In the past, estimates of global and regional snowfall trends have only been indicative. The results show that the amount of rainfall has increased in the northern regions, especially in the northern parts of Asia.”

In northern areas, where rainfall generally turns to snow in winter, the snow mass has remained the same or even increased. In the southern parts, where in winter rainfall comes down as water rather than snow, both the extent of the snow cover and the snow mass have decreased.

Snow mass data have the potential to help scientists analyse and improve the reliability of models used to predict future change, however, previous attempts to estimate the amount of snow mass in northern latitudes are so varied that it is not possible to judge if changes have occurred with sufficient confidence.

COVID19: ERC regrets Prof.Ferrari resignation comments

“The ERC’s Scientific Council notes with regret the statement made by Mauro Ferrari concerning his resignation on 7 April. We here present the facts of the situation.

On Friday 27 March, all 19 active members of the ERC’s Scientific Council individually and unanimously requested that Mauro Ferrari resign from his position as ERC’s President.

This request was made for four reasons:

During his three-month term in office, Professor Ferrari displayed a complete lack of appreciation for the raison-d’être of the ERC to support excellent frontier science, designed and implemented by the best researchers in Europe. Although voicing his support for this in public pronouncements, the proposals he made to the Scientific Council did not reflect this position. He did not understand the context of the ERC within the EU’s Research and Innovation Programme Horizon 2020.
Since his appointment, Professor Ferrari displayed a lack of engagement with the ERC, failing to participate in many important meetings, spending extensive time in the USA and failing to defend the ERC’s programme and mission when representing the ERC.
In contrast, Professor Ferrari made several personal initiatives within the Commission, without consulting or tapping into the collective knowledge of the Scientific Council, and instead using his position to promote his own ideas.
Lastly, Professor Ferrari was involved in multiple external enterprises, some academic and some commercial, which took a lot of his time and effort and appeared on several occasions to take precedence over his commitment to ERC. The workload associated with these activities proved to be incompatible with the mandate of President of the Scientific Council.
Professor Ferrari subsequently resigned on 7 April 2020. Therefore, his resignation in fact followed a written unanimous vote of no confidence. In contrast, Professor Ferrari has stated that the reason for his resignation is that the Scientific Council did not support his call for the ERC to fund a special initiative focused on the COVID-19 virus. To address this point specifically, we did not support a special initiative because that is not our remit and the Commission’s Research and Innovation Directorate General, with which we are connected, was already very active in developing new programmes to support this research through the appropriate channels.

Indeed, many ERC funded researchers have been active for some time in researching the coronavirus family and many other equally dangerous pathogens. Over 50 ongoing or completed ERC projects supported for a total value of about EUR 100 million are contributing to the response to the COVID-19 pandemic by providing insights from several different scientific fields such as: virology, epidemiology, immunology, paths for new diagnostics and treatments, public health, medical devices, artificial intelligence, social behaviour, crisis management.

In addition, as stated on its website in reaction to the COVID-19 crisis, the ERC offers ‘grantees the flexibility to adjust their research project”. This is an efficient measure because several ERC grantees already enquired about the possibility of addressing COVID-19 related research in their ongoing ERC project. All this information is publicly available on the ERC website, which also includes testimonies from funded ERC grantees on how bottom-up frontier research is critical to deliver new – and sometimes unexpected – insights relevant for better understanding and fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as for providing social behaviour and crisis management related solutions.

However, the ERC does not make calls for specific topics, since a guiding principle of ERC is that our researchers are free to pursue the goals they define and to decide on what they wish to work. In our view, this is a crucial way to generate the best science.

The Scientific Council wishes to clarify, in case of any doubt, that they absolutely endorse the view that scientific research will provide the best solutions to tackling pandemics, such as COVID-19.

Therefore, we regret Professor Ferrari’s statement, which at best is economical with the truth. This Scientific Council remains dedicated to pursuing the mission for which the ERC was established: the support of bottom-up ground-breaking research. It is also worth noting that despite the pandemic, the ERC Executive Agency is struggling against the odds to actively process applications for our Consolidator Grants and Starting Grants, which will support researchers throughout Europe to make the discoveries of the future.”

The ERC Scientific Council