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History of FAPESP VI

Stable weather

From weather forecasting to global warming, FAPESP has invested in climate science

CPTEC / INPEThe radar of the Rain Project was set up in the city of São José dos Campos in October. It will study storms that last for days on end and cause landslidesCPTEC / INPE

Long before global warming appeared on the planet’s agenda as a source of concern, FAPESP had already been investing heavily in climate sciences. For example, in the 1970s, FAPESP installed a meteorological radar in São Paulo State to monitor rainfall and to provide information for farmers and for the Civil Defense system. Another example is the FAPESP Program for Research on Global Climate Change (PFPMCG), which will invest at least R$ 100 million by 2018. These examples attest to the Foundation’s ongoing concern regarding training human resources and increasing the quality and quantity of the contribution of São Paulo researchers to the progress of knowledge in this field. These actions have helped Brazil to gain a voice in the global debate on climate change. “By sponsoring projects conducted by São Paulo State scientists – even when they study phenomena in other states, as for example, in the Amazon, FAPESP has helped to shape a community of researchers who are producing climate science work of world standards,” says Reynaldo Victoria, a professor at the Center for Nuclear Energy in Agriculture (Cena),of the Luiz de Queiroz campus at the University of São Paulo in Piracicaba, and executive coordinator of PFPMCG.

FAPESP’s first major investment in this field was made in 1974. It entailed setting up a meteorological radar in the city of Bauru, São Paulo State. The equipment, installed at the Institute for Meteorological Research (Ipmet), which would later become part of Paulista State University (Unesp), was the starting point for the current network of meteorological radars in the state. At the time, the radars in the state belonged to the Air Force and were used to monitor air space.

In the early 1970s, the then scientific director of FAPESP, Oscar Sala (1922-2010) proposed the establishment of the Meteorological Radar of São Paulo (Radasp) as a special FAPESP project. The Radar had a two-fold objective: to create an environment capable of training human resources in the field of meteorology by using the most advanced techniques of those times and to provide weather forecasts swiftly so that the state’s farmers could organize themselves and the Civil Defense system could monitor the effects of storms. “Professor Sala foresaw the importance of meteorology in the context of atmospheric sciences and took the initiative to propose a pilot program that, besides fostering research, involved a direct transfer of knowledge to society and to the productive sector,” says Roberto Vicente Calheiros, a full professor at Unesp and a researcher at Ipmet. As soon as the radar went into operation, São Paulo City’s Eldorado Radio Station started using it to broadcast information on rain forecasts.

Essential service
The radar installed in Bauru allowed people to follow, in real time, the rainfall in the state. It also provided immediate forecasts, from a few minutes up to hours ahead of time. “This is as essential a service for society as public safety and a healthcare system,” says Calheiros. The research work included research teams from the Department of Water and Electric Power (Daee), from the Polytechnic School and from the School of Engineering of São Carlos (of the University of São Paulo/USP) as well as from the Ilha Solteira School of Engineering (Unesp). Special emphasis was given to studies on summer rains and atmospheric layers. A curious piece of information: the radar installed in 1974 was replaced in the 1990s by more modern equipment. Recently, the Federal University of Alagoas took the old radar to the city of Maceió, where it was put back into operation.

The project’s good results led to the implementation of a second stage. Installation of Radasp II began in 1982, under the coordination of Roberto Vicente Calheiros. The installation of a second radar at the dam owned by Daee in the town of Ponte Nova, State of Minas Gerais, led to improvements in weather forecasting in that state, which mostly benefitted agricultural planning. With this radar, Calheiros developed a rain quantification technique , described in his doctoral thesis and later on in an article in the Journal of Climate and Applied Meteorology. Among other works, experiments in the field explained the origin of the heavy summer rains in the City of São Paulo. The explanation came from research coordinated by Maria Assunção Faus da Silva Dias. More recently, an outstanding finding of the research conducted with the help of the radars was the contribution of meteorologist Maria Andrea Lima to the understanding of how storms develop – her research studies follow storms up to a certain point in an attempt to predict the volume of rainfall that they can generate.

In the 1990s, FAPESP support made it possible to train personnel and to create an advanced research infrastructure, which helped the execution of leading research work on global climate change at a time when this issue was increasingly in the spotlight. Climatologist Carlos Nobre, from the National Institute of Space Research (Inpe), mentions two examples of this contribution. The first is the investment made, in 1996, in the Meteorological Instrumentation Laboratory (LIM) of Inpe, in the town of Cachoeira Paulista. The lab has become a reference for researchers in the field of meteorological and environmental sciences. LIM specializes in preparing, setting up, testing, and calibrating the environmental sensors and meters used in research work in several fields of knowledge. The second example is the creation, in 1999, of a data and information system at the Large Scale Biosphere-Atmosphere Experiment in Amazonia (LBA), one of the world’s biggest experiments in the environmental field: this experiment encompasses 156 research projects conducted by 281 national and foreign institutions. “This was the first time that data was collected from a multidisciplinary experiment. I am sure that the success of the program wouldn’t have been the same without that system,” says Carlos Nobre, the first executive coordinator of PFPMCG and currently the secretary of Research and Development Policies and Programs of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MCTI). “The success was so outstanding that it inspired the creation of data bases for other programs, such as Biota-FAPESP and the FAPESP Program on Climate Change,” he states. Nobre adds that FAPESP was also one of the main sources of funding for LBA, thanks to its sponsorship of science research projects linked to the program and conducted in the State of São Paulo. The program was managed by the MCTI and coordinated by Inpe and by the National Institute for Research on the Amazon Region (Inpa).

IPNETThe occurrence of rains captured by the São Paulo State radar system in 2009IPNET

Volume and Density
In the years 2000, research on climate change in Brazil increased and became more detailed, which generated a set of original contributions along with additional international exposure. Several research groups from the State of São Paulo did outstanding work with the support of FAPESP. For example, progress was made on the subject of slashing and burning as a factor that damages the balance of the atmosphere and ecosystems. This progress was the result of research projects led by such prominent scientists as Paulo Artaxo, a professor at the Physics Institute of the University of São Paulo (USP), and Alberto Setzer and Carla Longo, researchers at Inpe. “Enormous progress was made in this field,” says Carlos Nobre. The modeling of the integration between vegetation and climate also moved forward, and showed the risks caused by climate change to the enormous Brazilian biomes, such as the Amazon Region and the cerrado, the Brazilian savanna. These original projects were coordinated by prominent Brazilian researchers, among them Carlos Nobre and Gilvan Sampaio, from Inpe, and Humberto Ribeiro da Rocha, a professor at the Institute of Astronomy, Geophysics, and Atmospheric Sciences (IAG) of the University of São Paulo (USP). Other examples include the understanding of environmental impact on the biogeochemical cycles of sugarcane, especially on water systems, a project led by Luiz Martinelli, from the University of São Paulo (USP), and a detailed balance of carbon emissions generated by the use of biofuels, especially ethanol, a project led by Isaias Macedo, from Unicamp. Progress has also been made in the field of oceanography, more specifically in understanding how ocean currents circulate in the Atlantic Ocean, with special focus on the interaction between the currents in Brazil and in the Falkland Islands.

The issue of climate change, which has a multidisciplinary nature, involves specialists from different fields. A book published by FAPESP three years ago compiled the research work conducted by researchers in São Paulo State from 1992 to 2008 to further knowledge on climate change. The book contains information on 208 theme projects and research grants – two types of funding provided by the Foundation – and 437 scholarships funded by FAPESP. Research work was done in fields such as agriculture, veterinary sciences, architecture and urban planning, biology, engineering, physics, humanities and social sciences, chemistry, and health sciences.

This critical mass was the basis for a major multidisciplinary effort to understand climate phenomena. The FAPESP Program for Research on Global Climate Changes (PFPMCG) was launched in August 2008. It will provide investments of R$ 100 million over ten years – or approximately R$ 10 million a year, to be allocated to basic and applied research on the causes of global warming and its impacts on people’s lives. This investment may be even higher – more than R$ 40 million has already been disbursed in the first three years. The research projects are linked to six different areas. The first is the functioning of ecosystems, with emphasis on biodiversity and on the carbon and nitrogen cycles. The second is the balance of atmospheric radiation, especially studies on aerosols, and changes in the use of soil. The third focuses on the effects of climate changes on agriculture and animal husbandry. The fourth centers on energy and the cycle of greenhouse gases. The fifth focuses on the impacts on human health; and the sixth concerns the human dimensions of global environmental changes. “All of us who have obtained funding through the LBA feel strongly that there is a need for closer contact so that we can add all of our experiences together,” says Reynaldo Victoria, who coordinates the program and leads a group that is to analyze the role of rivers in regional carbon cycles. The PFPMCG has already scheduled 18 research projects and aims at scheduling more than one hundred. At least two dozen projects within the scope of the agreements established between FAPESP and other foundations, such as Rio de Janeiro State’s FAPERJ and Pernambuco State’s FACEPE, are expected to join the program. The purchase of an oceanography research ship by USP was incorporated into the program – the vessel, scheduled for launch in 2012, will play a crucial role in the program. “The ship will allow us to learn much more about the Southern Atlantic’s role in climate-related issues,” says Victoria.

Climate Model
A major ambition of the program is to create the first Brazilian climate model, more specifically, software able to produce sophisticated simulations of climate phenomena. At present, non-specific computer tools are used to forecast climate change. A super computer was purchased for R$ 50 million (R$ 15 million from FAPESP and R$ 53 million from the MCTI) to use the said climate model. This computer can perform 224 trillion operations per second. Named Tupã, it was installed in the Center for Weather Forecasting and Climate Studies (CPTEC) of Inpe. The supercomputer is to start up in early 2012. “The creation of CPTEC in the 1980s put Brazilian meteorology on par with that of developed countries and the acquisition of Tupã is an effort to maintain our competitiveness in weather and climate forecasts,” says Osvaldo de Moraes, general coordinator of CPTEC. “The super computer will be used for CPTEC weather forecast work, but it will also be available for all research groups working under the FAPESP Program.” Tupã ranks 29th on the list of the 500 most powerful computers in the world. The acquisition of the new machine does not automatically ensure that weather forecasts will improve. We have to improve our models so that our forecasts become more accurate,” says Moraes, who has also emphasized the Foundation’s support of funding grants and research projects at CPTEC.

One of these initiatives, which entailed a R$ 1.4 million grant frjom FAPESP, is a theme project named Projeto Chuva [Project Rain], which started in 2009 and is led by Luiz Augusto Machado, a researcher at CPTEC. One of its objectives is to incorporate phenomena currently because of their tiny time and space scales. “One example is the 30-minute flash storms that cause major flooding but are not detected by the models because they are too quick,” says Osvaldo de Moraes. “As models increase their spatial resolutions, they need to be able to describe the processes that take place inside clouds, such as the size of the raindrops, or to describe the countless types of ice crystals that exist in a storm cloud,” says Luiz Augusto Machado. To study these phenomena, researchers are resorting to radars and other imported equipment, installed for a specific period of time at the regions where given phenomena occur. Experiments have already been conducted in Alcântara (State of Maranhão), Fortaleza (State of Ceará) and Belém (State of Pará). In November and December they will be conducted in the Paraíba Valley. Machado explains that the research in the Paraíba Valley will encompass two meteorological events typical of that region in November and December. One is the severe storms with heavy rain and hail. The second is continuous rainfall that lasts for days on end, usually causing flooding and landslides, such as those that recently affected the towns of São Luís do Paraitinga, in the Paraíba Valley and the town of Teresópolis (in the State of Rio de Janeiro).