University of Leicester eBulletin

New Centre to Study Global Air-Sea Interactions

May 2003
No 144

The University of Leicester is to play a key role in a new UK project, CASIX, aimed at gaining a better understanding of climate change.

It will involve space physicists as well as chemists from Leicester, who are pioneering an innovative technique to obtain key information in the scientific processes.

CASIX is a new Centre of Excellence which brings together a diverse team of scientists from around the UK to investigate air-sea interactions and how they affect climate change.  Earth Observation Scientists from the University of Leicester will provide global levels of carbon dioxide, measured from spacecraft measurements.

This network of scientists is funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).  The aim of CASIX is to improve the accuracy with which we quantify the rate of exchange of carbon dioxide with the oceans, since this is one of the largest uncertainties in global climate change prediction.

Titled the 'Centre of Observation of Air-Sea Interactions and Fluxes', it is a 'network of excellence' that will be managed by the Plymouth Marine Laboratory. Other collaborators include the Universities of Leicester, Southampton, Edinburgh and Wales as well as institutes including the Proudman Oceanography Centre and the Met office. 

Professor David Llewellyn-Jones, head of the earth observation science group at the University of Leicester said: "The CASIX network will attack one of the major problems in our ability to predict climate change accurately, especially due to the greenhouse effect of carbon dioxide."

The greenhouse effect arises because certain gases in the atmosphere, of which carbon dioxide is one of the most important, trap energy from the sun, raising the temperature of the earth.  In order for scientists to predict how global climate may change, they need to predict the amount of gas around the planet that will trap energy. Of these gases, the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere is a major uncertainty that needs attention, and it is this that CASIX will focus on. 

The oceans cover four fifths of the earth's surface. Tiny aquatic organisms take up CO2 in the atmosphere, but the amount of CO2 they absorb is difficult to predict because it depends on many different factors, like air and sea temperatures. Professor Llewellyn-Jones said: "It's immensely complicated, and requires knowledge that spans ocean biology to meteorology.  That is why a network such as CASIX is needed, to combine the interdisciplinary skills of many different experts who would not usually communicate with one another on a regular basis."

Dr Paul Monks, of the Department of Chemistry at the University of Leicester is pioneering a novel technique for measuring the amount of CO2 in a column of air between the ENVISAT satellite and the sea surface. He said: "We're using a brand new instrument on board ENVISAT which offers a unique opportunity to measure CO2 from space.  CASIX will mean this data can be coupled with oceanographic data to provide an unparalleled look at the impact of oceans on the CO2 budget, which is so inherent to our climate."

NOTE TO NEWSDESK: For more information, please contact Professor Llewellyn-Jones, dlj1@leicester.ac.uk, Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Leicester, LE1 7RH, Tel: 0116 252 5238.

Dr Paul Monks, Department of Chemistry, University of Leicester, 0116 252 2141, P.S.Monks@le.ac.uk, Fax: 0116 252 3789.

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