Science & Technology

Pioneer observatory making Chile a global detector of climate change

By Patricia Nieto Mariño

Punta Arenas, Chile, Jan 20 (EFE).- From the arid Atacama desert to frozen Antarctica, scientists have deployed hundreds of sensors and monitoring devices as part of Chile’s first Climate Change Observatory (OCC), a platform launched on Thursday that will collect the most diverse and complete data in the world on global warming.

The Latin American country, a narrow strip of land more than 4,000 kilometers (about 2,500 miles) long – or twice that distance if one counts Chile’s portion of Antarctica – is “ideal” for analyzing the variations from climate change at different latitudes and forecasting future weather events, experts say.

“The observatory will offer environmental information in an open and fundamentally standardized way for the analysis of climate change on the world level,” Chilean Science Minister Andres Couve told EFE from the southern city of Punta Arenas, where the project was launched.

The Southern Cone, he added, has “very limited” environmental data collection under way and this initiative “is arriving to fill the gap” with broad information about temperatures, precipitation, solar radiation and wind conditions.

It’s a pioneer project in the region, although similar initiatives have been undertaken before such as the Lter platform in the United States or the Tern ecosystems analysis network in Australia, Sharon Robinson, a climatologist and specialist on Antarctica at Australia’s Wollongong University, told EFE.

What’s noteworthy is that the Chilean observatory is the one with the largest latitudinal range in the world and it’s in the Southern Hemisphere, she said after participating online in the Future Congress, Chile’s most important science and innovation forum.

The OCC is a government platform that combines information from public and private databases and sensors that are located between the city of Arica, on the northern border with Peru, and Antarctica.

Among the participants are the Chilean Antarctic Institute (Inach), the Chilean Meteorological Directorate (DMC) and the Ecology and Biodiversity Institute (IEB), although the objective is to forge alliances with international entities that will enable the network to be expanded.

Roberto Rondanelli, a researcher with the University of Chile’s Climate Science and Resilience Center (CR2), told EFE that the country has the world’s driest desert (the Atacama) and one of the world’s rainiest areas, the “southern ice field,” a conglomeration of glaciers in the southern part of the country.

“Having different climates and solar radiation, which country is a fantastic observation network. It’s like a whole planet within one country. A natural laboratory,” he added.

The OCC also aspires to incorporate information gathered by a pioneer ocean sensor that will be placed in one of the deepest ocean ravines on the planet, the Atacama Trench (also known as the Peru-Chile Trench), the point of contact between the Nazca and South American tectonic plates and more than eight km (five mi.) below the ocean surface.

In an unprecedented move, this week a group of scientists from the Millennium Institute of Oceanography (IMO), spurred on by US businessman and explorer Victor Vescovo, launched the first crewed expedition down into the trench to study where to place the sensor.

Another of the project’s landmark activities is installing 21 multiparameter stations in Antarctica to measure the climate there in real time, Inach director Marcelo Leppe told EFE.

“Up to now, we were not … measuring the temperature on the white continent, the most important (area) for the regulation of the planet’s climate,” he said.

The stations will be placed in a line between the Escudero base, located on King George Island, and the Union Glacier Joint Scientific Polar Station, in the Ellsworth Mountains.

Due to the oceanic and atmospheric interactions, Leppe said, Antarctica and its climate “have an impact on the global level and serve to predict some climate phenomena.”

“Studying this portion of the planet and knowing how its temperature and precipitation behaves opens a new window for the analysis of global climate change,” he said.

EFE pnm/mmm/eat/bp

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