Karlsruhe Institute of Technology

Atmosphere and Climate Program

The Envisat European environmental satellite with the MIPAS infrared spectrometer on board (Photo by: ESA)

The Programme „Atmosphere and Climate“ (ATMO) investigates the Earth’s atmosphere as the central component of the climate system with advanced technologies of observation and numerical modeling. The atmosphere is the primary driver of climate change, affecting living conditions on Earth, and in turn, it is strongly affected by climate change effects in the Earth system. Changes of climate, natural hazards (e.g. extreme weather), and air quality represent major challenges to humankind over many generations. The scientific knowledge derived from atmospheric research thus forms an essential prerequisite for developing resilient strategies to abate or mitigate the impacts of atmospheric and climate change.

Growing economies drive significant changes in atmospheric composition, with ramifications on the climate system, human health, water resources, ecosystems, and biodiversity. Global climate change results in regionally diverse modifications of the water cycle and affects extreme weather events, such as heat waves, severe droughts, tropical storms, or heavy precipitation. Global deterioration of air quality, water resources, ecosystems and biodiversity pose a threat to the well-being of humankind.

While the overall increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations is being monitored by routine observations, and its principal drivers (e.g., global energy production, sources and sinks in oceans and biosphere) are reasonably well quantified, the level of understanding for other trace gases and for aerosol particles is much lower. Large uncertainties exist in the understanding of complex feedback mechanisms in the climate system, particularly with respect to aerosols and clouds, land-use/land-cover change, and the roles of reactive trace gases and of chemical and physical processes in the upper troposphere and lower stratosphere.

The scientific challenges arising from these uncertainties include:

  • the effective experimental investigation and documentation of changes in atmospheric composition (on scales ranging from local to global, and from days to decades), as well as
  • the quantitative understanding of underlying chemical and physical processes,

both within the atmosphere and at its interfaces with the biosphere, land surface, and the anthroposphere, and also the impact of external parameters like solar variability.