International observatory for climate change launched in Messinia
By Lina Giannarou
Autumn has definitely arrived in the Peloponnesian prefecture of Messinia, though the cool winds coming down from the north have not affected the riot of wildflowers and greenery in its mountains and valleys.
According to scientists who attended the launch last weekend of the Navarino Environmental Observatory (NEO), which aims at observing and recording climate and atmospheric trends in the Mediterranean, the conditions in Messinia are ideal for observing climate change.
NEO is a collaboration between the University of Stockholm, the Academy of Athens and TEMES, the company responsible for developing the luxury Costa Navarino hotel complex in Messinia, and aims at charting the effect of climate change on the Mediterranean region, which because of its position and geography is a hub for the transport of air pollutants and atmospheric aerosols, which play an important role in the radiation balance of the region and therefore influence climate change.
According to the director of research at the Institute of Environmental Research and Sustainable Development at the Athens Observatory, Evangelos Gerasopoulos, climate change is expected to have a “significant impact on society and the tourism industry over the next decades” in Greece and other parts of the Mediterranean.
Research has shown that the impact of climate change is already being felt from the Sahara in North Africa to the north of the Balkans, where, due to human activity and other factors, the combination of marine, atmospheric and terrestrial pollution have come together to create asphyxiating conditions.
“We may love our warm Mediterranean climate,” Gerasopoulos said, “but it isn’t conducive to reducing atmospheric pollution.”
NEO, which is located within the Costa Navarino complex, has facilities for primary research in various fields such as geology, geomorphology, atmospheric composition, landscape change and water. It is open not just to scientists and researchers from around world, but also to the general public as well as students from schools and tertiary education institutes via the Navarino Natural Hall, which is an interactive environmental center dedicated to the issues being researched by NEO with a focus on the impact of climate change on Messinia.
The aim of the project is to promote a different and milder form of development that has a gentler impact on the natural habitat and local community.
According to Barbara Cannon, president of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, the inauguration of NEO “shows us that environmental change does not always bring disaster” but can also present new challenges and “opportunities to proceed with development in a different manner.”
Also speaking at the event, University of Stockholm Rector Kare Bremer expressed his pleasure at the new observatory, noting that the esteemed university already has research centers from the Arctic to the tropics and that NEO would also it to expand its activities in the Mediterranean.
Giorgos Kontopoulos, president of the Athens Academy, hailed the initiative as a “rare collaboration between the scientific and the tourism sectors, which helps improve the way we understand the environment in which we live.”
The president of TEMES, Achilles Constantakopoulos, also hailed the initiative, saying that it is an “example to all of us of exceeding expectations.”
Other than the research work that will be carried out at NEO, emphasis is also placed on training and education postgraduate students and young researchers, with the center inviting groups from the University of Stockholm, the University of Patra and other institutions, as well as individual researchers, to participate in or observe the programs that are under way.
The region of Messinia, scientists agree, is an ideal field for research as it has dozens of caves, forests, rare flora and fauna and a rich marine environment, as well as an interesting geomorphology that has been shaped by intense seismic activity.
Speaking on a panel on climate change in the Mediterranean that took place as part of NEO’s inauguration, Academy of Athens Professor Christos Zerefos noted that “the combination of the environmental and economic crises that are hitting Greece poses an even greater challenge to researchers.”