«Top of Europe" for greenhouse gas

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The research station at Jungfraujoch. Image: Konsta Punkka

The research station at Jungfraujoch. Image: Konsta Punkka

The research station at Jungfraujoch is at the top of Europe - and not only because of its unique location. Within the framework of the European research infrastructure «Integrated Carbon Observation System» (ICOS), the laboratory in the heart of the Alps is now officially certified. ICOS provides data to better understand the global carbon cycle and how human activities affect it. The backbone of ICOS is a network of stations that have to meet the highest quality standards.

Greenhouse gas emissions are a threat that calls for global solutions. A network of measuring stations from all over Europe monitors and analyses the spatial distribution and trends in our atmosphere, ecosystems and the oceans and provides valuable data on the development of global emissions. Measuring the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and the exchange of these gases between atmosphere, biosphere and the oceans is essential for understanding climate change and predicting potential consequences.

However, until recently there were no strict guidelines to provide high-precision, comparable data. The Integrated Carbon Observation System (ICOS) was thus launched in November 2015. The inclusion of biospheric, oceanic and atmospheric measuring stations in this network is linked to strict criteria to ensure that the data meet the highest quality standards. Last November, the first seven measuring stations were certified - and, as of today, the highest lab in Switzerland at Jungfraujoch also belongs to this illustrious circle. To obtain an ICOS certification, the stations must meet demanding international standards for instrumentation, calibration and data processing and ensure complete transparency of the entire data chain. «The information on greenhouse gases gathered from all over Europe is essential for national governments to improve their mitigation measures,» said ICOS Director General Werner Kutsch. This data is also relevant for intergovernmental organizations in order to make informed decisions and to meet the requirements of international agreements such as the Paris Agreement.

As part of ICOS, the research station at Jungfraujoch measures carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O) and carbon monoxide (CO). With its location at 3500 meters above sea level, it is mainly located in the so-called free troposphere. Measurements at this level provide key information for quantifying emission levels in polluted environments.

In addition, polluted air masses from lower regions reach the Jungfraujoch every now and then. The analysis of these episodes makes it possible to identify and quantify different sources of greenhouse gases in Central Europe. «Although we have been measuring greenhouse gases at Jungfraujoch for many years, ICOS has enabled us to further improve the quality of our data», explains Martin Steinbacher from Empa’s «Air Pollutants / Environmental Technology» lab. «International cooperation as well as cooperation with many national partners is central to achieving this unique data availability and quality.» ICOS measurements at Jungfraujoch are also carried out by the University of Berne, the University of Basel and MeteoSwiss. The laboratory is operated by the International Foundation for High-Alpine Research Stations Jungfraujoch and Gornergrat (HFSJG).

ICOS is a pan-European research infrastructure that provides harmonized and highly precise scientific data on the carbon cycle, greenhouse gas balance and anthropogenic impacts. ICOS data is openly accessible in the «Carbon Portal», a one-stop shop for all ICOS data products. The ICOS research infrastructure is coordinated and managed by the ICOS European Research Infrastructure Consortium (ERIC). ICOS ERIC was established by decision of the European Commission in November 2015 and is based in Finland. Twelve European countries are currently participating in ICOS. ICOS is one of 13 central pan-European research infrastructures.

The ICOS network in Switzerland consists of ETH Zurich, Empa, WSL, University of Berne, University of Basel and MeteoSwiss. ICOS Switzerland contributes two measuring stations - the atmospheric station at Jungfraujoch and the ecosystem station in Davos - to ICOS. ICOS Switzerland is supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF), Empa, ETH Zurich, WSL , the Universities of Berne and Basel and the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment (BAFU).