Metrology for Environment

Interview with Andrea Merlone, EURAMET Task Group Convenor

New stable and reproducible measurement standards monitoring environmental changes and the environmental performance of new technologies typically involve measurements with associated low levels of uncertainty over long time scales.

By following a multi-disciplinary approach, EURAMET's coordinated research actions focus on research for robust and stable measurement for monitoring the environment and on research into innovative new systems and technologies that precisely assess environmental parameters.

In 2010 and 2013, EURAMET's European Metrology Research Programme (EMRP) launched a call for projects in this field with an aim to improve data quality for policy making, underpinning environmental research activities and stimulating technological innovation. The projects focus at the local environmental level on air, water and soil pollution, and at the global level on challenges relating to climate change. Earlier this year, the successor programme EMPIR (European Metrology Programme for Innovation and Research) launched another call for Environment projects. An impact report that outlines the key technical achievements and early impacts of the first group of projects completed under the EMRP Environment theme (2010) will soon be published.

To foster possible solutions for present and upcoming environmental metrology challenges the EURAMET Task Group on "Metrology for Environment" was established in 2014. In the following interview with Andrea Merlone (INRIM, Italy), the Convenor of this task group, an insight into this topic will be provided.

Where do we find metrology for environment in our daily lives and why is metrology important for challenges in the environment sector?

In many more aspects than we might suppose. Environmental and climate concerns affect our lives, regard less of where we live. Accurate measurements of atmospheric parameters such as air and water quality, electromagnetic and noise pollution, radiation level and extreme meteorological events are fundamental everywhere on our planet. We base our lifestyle on so many indirect environmental impacts, e.g. large scale industrial and power plants, each of them require monitoring, measurements and controlling at levels of uncertainty close to, if not better than the state of the art. But even far from technology, if you are member of an Inuit community or a Berber-Tuareg, you are concerned with what's happening to your environment and how this effects animals, plants and land. We need to improve data quality in essential climate variables to better understand how our climate is changing. Measurements are the basis to guarantee reliable observations and organise mitigation actions for climate change.

What are the objectives of the EURAMET task group for environment?

Our task group has a clear mission; supporting and advising EURAMET regarding all aspects of metrology for environment. This includes collaboration with relevant institutions such as the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) but also environmental protection agencies and manufacturers. The task group supports EURAMET's Technical Committees and acts for the development of standards, measurement methods and measurement structures. We report to EURAMET on new perspectives, emerging needs and activities related to traceability, quality assurance and calibration procedures for environmental measurements. Examples are our contribution to EURAMET's Strategic Research Agenda and the input to call scopes within the European Metrology Programme for Innovation and Research (EMPIR). To promote the metrology approach of environmental issues to stakeholder communities the task group has organised a number of events such as the 'Metrology for Meteorology and Climate' conference and 'Metrology for Environment in the Arctic', which is a breakout session at the Arctic Circle, the most important scientific and diplomatic event on Arctic environment. EURAMET has already taken measures to meet a series of metrology needs in that area.

What needs to be done to further support environmental protection?

Climate monitoring and pollution control were well addressed in EURAMET's EMRP 2010 and 2013 environment calls and in many cases the results go beyond the planned project objectives. Not to forget that better measurements in the climate sector will show their real benefit in the coming years or decades. Doors have been opened and communities have begun talking. The main effort in detecting climate change and therefore supporting environmental protection, should be focussed on how to harmonise and compare the climate data to some reference. The role of the metrology community is well defined: it's the unique contribution to improving data quality that only metrology can deliver. It is not an SI activity towards the redefinition of a unit, where we have decades and generations of experience. This story is new. And we're training new staff in this multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary field. EURAMET and the associated NMIs and DIs should guarantee that such effort is not limited to the life time of joint research projects, but will be an established field of metrology. This should involve the promotion of the coordinated European action performed in the research programmes towards improving measurements for a better knowledge on the state of our environment and climate. We hope the next generation of climatologists will have in their hands accurate, traceable and, most of all, comparable data, in both space and time. The short and long term impact of which must be guaranteed, because there is no planet "B".

About Andrea Merlone
Dr Andrea Merlone is a senior researcher at INRIM, the Italian National Metrology Institute. His focus is on metrology for environment. Andrea is coordinator of two EMRP joint research projects about metrology for meteorology to improve measurements of key climate variables. He is member of relevant international institutions operating in the field of meteorology and climatology such as the World Meteorology Organisation. Additionally, he is chair or member of different committees in EURAMET, BIPM and IMEKO.

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