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European Facility for Airborne Research in Environmental and Geo-sciences

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Making airborne research infrastructure available to all

Airborne research facilities are used all over the world to study processes in the atmosphere and at the land/ocean surface, but some researchers are unable to make use of the infrastructure. An EU team has created an opportunity for researchers from developing economies to access the flight times and equipment they need.

Climate Change and Environment
Society

Airborne research facilities have applications in fields like atmospheric composition, cloud particle and precipitation development, the study of radiative transfer in the atmosphere and imaging studies of land and water surfaces. The latter provide information on, for example, vegetation and soil properties and water quality. These and many other applications may be out of reach for research groups from developing economies unable to use the infrastructure available to researchers in the EU. The EU-funded EUFAR initiative set out to connect airborne research communities so that researchers can access the infrastructure they need regardless of location. The project team worked to develop and provide infrastructure for airborne environmental research such as aircraft and the specialist instrumentation that is operated on board. “EUFAR covers many of the main airborne research infrastructure operators within Europe,” says EUFAR Executive Board Chair, Phil Brown. “One of our main objectives is to provide access to users who do not have regular access to these facilities via their national research funding.” The EUFAR team have provided transnational access to scientists for the last 14 years. They have also supported user groups in several countries without appropriate airborne facilities of their own. In addition to transnational access the team has supported a range of networking and joint research activities. To support transnational access, EUFAR provided users with fully funded flight time to conduct their own dedicated airborne observation campaigns. The facility can grant users with a limited amount of travel funding to enable them to participate directly in the flight campaign. The users have responded to new calls for proposals on the EUFAR website, to be reviewed by an independent selection panel. The transnational access programme came with its own set of challenges, such as the limited flight time that can be allocated to an individual user group. The EUFAR team helped the user groups gain flight access in locations including the Cape Verde Islands, Namibia and west Africa. Project partners helped infrastructure providers assist their users with data analysis and to train them in airborne science topics. EUFAR also organised summer schools devoted to a range of topics in airborne environmental research, helping students plan and conduct airborne measurement flights. A networking activity concerning innovation and technology transfer was a new experience for the EUFAR researchers, whose interests lie principally in research and instrumentation development. With the help of a partner with previous experience in this area, the team documented technologies used in airborne research that have additional economic and social benefits. Project members took up joint research activities that were geared to develop the capabilities of the infrastructure network, including developing new measurement techniques and improved methods for data calibration. In addition, EUFAR developed and documented techniques for combining airborne imaging data with airborne LIDAR scanning with widespread applications in land-surface studies. “The EUFAR team aimed to establish itself as a sustainable organisation to continue to pursue collaborative activities in airborne research,” Brown says. In January 2018 they achieved their goal by establishing the EUFAR AISBL, an international non-profit association, supported by 11 member institutions from 9 European countries. Moving forward, the members will support the work of the association through small membership fees and ‘donating’ personnel time. These will help provide a central focus and contact point for airborne environmental research activities in Europe.

Keywords

EUFAR, airborne research, flight time, environmental research, research infrastructure, infrastructure network

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