US and Portugal sign agreement for climate research collaboration

March 27, 2009

WASHINGTON, DC - The United States signed an agreement with Portugal today to launch the installation of a portable climate observatory on Graciosa Island in the Azores.

The mobile observatory will obtain measurements of cloud and aerosol properties from the island's marine environment for 20 months, beginning in May. The measurements are expected to greatly enhance scientific understanding of the microscopic processes that occur in low-level marine clouds, and will be used to test and improve climate models.

The portable observatory, or Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) Mobile Facility, is part of U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) ARM Climate Research Facility, a collection of climate data collection instruments located strategically at various locations around the globe and supported by DOE's Office of Science.

David Ballard, deputy chief of mission for the U.S. Embassy in Lisbon, and Carlos Cesar, president of the regional government authority for the Azores, signed the agreement in a ceremony today at the Presidential Palace in Ponta Delgada, the Azores.

Low-level or boundary-layer marine clouds are found in coastal environments around the world, and they play a major role in the global climate system. However, computer model simulations have repeatedly shown differing reactions by low-level clouds to increasing sea surface temperature, seasonal cycles, greenhouse gases and aerosol properties. For accurate predictions of future climate, scientists need a better understanding of the dynamic elements that control the lifecycle of these cloud types.

"The scientific community needs more comprehensive data about these cloud types for computer models to continue to improve simulations of future climate," said Anna Palmisano, associate director for DOE's Office of Biological and Environmental Research. "The mobile facility's sophisticated instruments, combined with the length of the deployment, provide an unparalleled opportunity to help fill this gap."

The agreement formalizes scientific collaboration between DOE and the University of the Azores, starting with the upcoming study called the Clouds, Aerosol and Precipitation in the Marine Boundary Layer. Led by Robert Wood from the University of Washington, the science team includes additional researchers from the United States, Chile and the United Kingdom.

"This study will result in the first climatology of the high resolution vertical structure of cloud and precipitation properties of low clouds at a remote subtropical marine site," said Wood. "This will be a highly significant contribution to the international climate research community," he added.

Graciosa Island is one of many small islands in the Azores, a Portuguese archipelago located about 3,900 km from the east coast of North America and about 1500 km west of Lisbon. Because the Azores typically experience relatively clean atmospheric conditions with passing episodes of polluted airmasses from nearby continents, the location on Graciosa is ideal for capturing a wide range of conditions.

The mobile facility was developed to obtain continuous atmospheric measurements from under-sampled climate regimes. Its international deployments thus far include Germany, Africa and most recently, China. The ARM Climate Research Facility also operates permanent observational sites in Alaska, Oklahoma and the tropical western Pacific region around northern Australia.

All data collected by the mobile facility are freely available.
DOE's Office of Science created the ARM Program in 1989 within the Office of Biological and Environmental Research to investigate scientific uncertainties about the interactions of clouds and energy in the atmosphere, with the goal of improving climate models. The infrastructure and data archive established through the ARM Program were designated a scientific user facility, the ARM Climate Research Facility, in 2003. More information about the ARM program and the facility is available at

DOE/US Department of Energy

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