No advances without shared knowledge

Since its early days, climate science has been punctuated with technical advances, opening new ways for researchers. With the development of modelling, improvement of observational tools or more efficient data processing, it is in truth the methods and perspectives of scientists that have evolved.

“Our ability to understand the chemical composition of the atmosphere, to quantify the concentration of gas and particles and their evolution in time has largely improved in past decades” states Martial Haeffelin, scientific co-director of the research infrastructure ACTRIS-FR and of the atmospheric observatory SIRTA (Site Instrumental de Recherche par Télédétection Atmosphérique). To measure the variables essential to the study of the environment and climate, two types of complementary mechanisms exist: tools at the surface of the Earth (oceanic, terrestrial or atmospheric) and satellite observations.

Throughout the years, the researcher witnessed the diversification and specialisation of observational techniques in every field of climate science: “There has been immense progress in our ability to interpret signals with a great accuracy and high resolution. For observations in the environment, devices became less bulky, automated and cheaper, facilitating a strong development and thus, a wider spatial cover.” Yet, even though a better analysis of data allows for a thinner understanding of terrestrial mechanisms, technique itself is insufficient. To Martial Haeffelin, the most substantial evolution he has seen in his carrier lies beyond a screen or a measurement device.

Sharing knowledge, a scientific and political breakthrough

“One of the major advances of these past 20 years is the sharing of data and know-how at the international level,” notes the researcher. “It has completely changed the landscape of measurement systems”. The advent of the internet has widely contributed to the evolution of habits among numerous researchers, simplifying data transfers and exchanges between laboratories. Still, to the co-director of the IPSL, this tool alone cannot explain the bloom happening through the international research community. “It is almost a political will, especially in Europe, that drives researchers to form as network and develop durable structures to go towards more added value in measurement and data systems.”

The context, the method, the setting of tools or tools themselves are many variables for measurements that makes some data sets incomparable, even for the study of the very same phenomenon. And this is a daunting challenge in the research community. The standardisation of practices and the exchanges it entailed at the international level have largely contributed to sharpen the analysis, that stems now from gigantic data sets, more rigorous and reliable. “It is a mean to draw everyone at a higher level by standardising, in a good way, the abilities and methods,” states Martial Haeffelin. “It makes it possible to move forward together. Such a sharing of knowledge and data, without stakes of competitivity, is a precious feature of the scientific field”.


Translated from Marion Barbé for IPSL


To go further

Explore the SIRTA Observatory website

Discover the other ressources of Mozaïka