Windhoek-Namibia would emerge a big winner in the research currently being undertaken off the Skeleton Coast by scientists from the United States of America’s National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
Dr Jens Redemann, one of NASA’s research scientists, explained that Namibia is benefiting economically from the project. Last year the team spent at least N$10 million locally. “And we expect to spend that again in 2017 and 2018,” said Redemann.
“Every year in southern and central Africa there is a seasonal cycle of burning and the emissions from that burning get transported over the south-east Atlantic,
where they interact with low level clouds and those interactions are very important to understanding regional and global climate,” explained Redemann.
These interactions happen anywhere globally but they are very easily studied in Namibia off the coast. This is because there is a system called the perfect natural laboratory and “we can study the effects very nicely because they happen separately in different locations and we can pick locations to study specific details of these processes by flying aircraft there,” he explained.
Redemann added that the three-year project that started last year in Walvis Bay is about studying the properties of biomass burning.
Also, graduates from tertiary institutions such as the University of Namibia as well as Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST) have been part of the shadowing in the project, said Redemann.
“They shadowed us through the entire project. They participated in the data analysis and forecasting. They got lectures on modelling, computer programming and data analysis. And they actually got to fly on the low level aircraft a few times,” explained the scientist.
Redemann said that research data would be provided to Namibia. “These data products can be used to study regional climate but also other things like ocean ecosystem health. So if [the ministry of] fisheries are interested then the health of the ecosystem, what kind of species and nutrients are available in the water, that could be studied and data would be collected,” he added, stressing that capacity building of Namibians is one of the project’s strengths.
“We aim to spread out the school shadowing and give them teaching capacity so that they can turn around and inspire the next generation. We feel like if we touch at least 30 graduates at the highest level then they will have an impact in the classroom in teaching,” he said.
In addition, the team conducted outreach activities at the airport where school children got to learn from the project.
Redemann said they plan to do the same thing this year. “But we need the help of our Namibian partners to identify the students to take part,” he added. Expanding on the project, Redemann explained that satellites don’t provide detailed information, so both the properties of smoke and the processes that link them cannot be seen very well with satellites.
“Earth satellites actually struggle with seeing biomass burning emissions on top of very bright clouds. The signal there is more and satellites don’t provide all the information we need, that’s why we need to fly directly with aircraft,” he said.
The ultimate goal is to improve climate models, added Redemann. “The data that we are collecting, the information on the processes that link the clouds and the smoke, we are hoping to put in to climate models,” he stressed.
He added they are already in climate models but in a crude way. “We’re trying to improve the way that the smoke and clouds are treated in the climate models. That will have an impact on regional climate forecasts,” added the scientist.
Furthermore, he said climate in Namibia is forecast to become warmer and drier in the future. “So, temperatures are supposed to go up and rainfall is projected to go down,” he added.
Redemann said that the more the team works on the experiment and others about properties of smoke and clouds the better “we can predict future climate in Namibia”.
Last year the team flew two research aircraft but this year only one research aircraft will be flown when gathering data.
“It’s a very complex operation that requires a lot of equipment and shipping and our project only provides funds to bring that aircraft to one of the three areas. We would have loved to bring it three times but that’s beyond our financial scope,” he said.