EMME-CARE Project: INAR partners to establish an atmosphere and climate Center of Excellence in the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East (EMME) region

Interview with Lubna Dada and Rima Baalbaki (INAR)

1. How did the partnership begin between Eastern-Mediterranean & Middle East (EMME) institute and Nordic (INAR)?

In INAR, we believe that there are no geographic borders for environmental grand challenges; they are all linked and to solve them we need to build a global earth observatory as advocated by Academician Markku Kulmala. The Eastern-Mediterranean and Middle East (EMME) region faces critical challenges especially with regard to air pollution and climate change (Lelieveld et al., 2002). The region has very high aerosol loadings, intense photochemistry leading to high levels of secondary pollutants and has been identified as a hot spot for climate change (Giorgi, 2006). We have these challenges on one hand and on the other hand we have little atmospheric observations in the vast majority of the area. This highlights the importance of creating a Center of Excellence in the area to tackle these challenges and Cyprus is the best location for it. It is a European Union member state with access to EU funding and it is a regional node for education with high level of expertise and long-standing exchange with the Middle East.

Researchers from The Cyprus Institute (CyI), mainly Prof. Jean Sciare, and INAR have a long scientific exchange history and common research interests, which facilitated this collaboration towards building a Center of Excellence (CoE). In addition, collaboration between Academician Markku Kulmala and Prof. Jos Lelieveld, director of the Max Plank Institute for Chemistry (MPIC), and Prof. Philippe Ciais, head of LSCE laboratory of the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commissions (CEA), dates for more than 10 years. All this helped create a team from the four institutes and they successfully received funding from the EU commission through a two-phase highly competitive application process under the ‘Teaming’ programme of Horizon 2020. The funded project is called “EMME-CARE”, for Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East Climate and Atmosphere Research Centre (Grant no. 856612).


2. What is the role of INAR within the Advanced Partners team of EMME-CARE?

The ‘Teaming’ projects of H2020 are institution-building projects. The main aim is to create CoEs in Widening countries (Cyprus, in this case, represented by CyI) through a coupling process with leading scientific institutions, in this case INAR, MPIC and CEA. The leading scientific institutions or ‘advanced partners’ transfer their expertise in atmospheric and climate research to CyI. These expertise matches the centre’s specific objectives to become a regional hub for environmental predictions, impact and policy (MPIC expertise), atmospheric observations and innovation (CEA expertise), and research infrastructure and education (INAR-UHEL expertise).


3. The EMME region is a climate change ‘hot spot’, what does this mean?

Climate change is happening across the globe but not all areas are affected similarly or to the same extent! A climate change ‘Hot-Spot’ is an area that is expected to be greatly affected by or responsive to climate change. From a comparative point of view, these hot spots are identified using a Regional Climate Change Index (RCCI). It is an index that considers regional changes in mean precipitation and mean surface air temperature and the inter-annual variability of these two parameters. This index revealed that the Mediterranean region is one of two primary Hot-Spots for climate change (Giorgi, 2006).


4. Which atmospheric and climate topics are particular for the EMME region?

The EMME region will mainly face increases in the frequency and intensity of droughts and hot weather conditions (Lelieveld et al., 2012). However, since the EMME region is quite diverse in terms of weather and topography, the extent of these conditions is disproportional. For example, daytime maximum temperatures appear to increase most rapidly in the northern part of the region; hot summer conditions, previously rare in that area, will become the norm by the middle and end of the 21st century (Lelieveld et al., 2014). In terms of precipitation, countries that had higher level of precipitation will face a substantial increase in the number of days without rainfall while the number may increase in the Arabian Gulf area. Regardless of this disproportionality,  climate models consistently predict an overall drying of the region across different forcing scenarios (Giorgi and Lionello, 2008). The anticipated regional impacts of climate change include heat stress, associated with poor air quality and increasing scarcity of fresh water in the Levant (Lelieveld et al., 2012). If extreme weather conditions become the norm, some areas will soon become inhabitable affecting the lives of people in the EMME region  contributing to migration.  Thus addressing the environmental challenges in the area by identifying their origin would serve more than 400 million people living across three continents: Africa, Asia and Europe.


5. EMME-CARE aims to establish a Center of Excellence (CoE). How will EMME-CARE project build up to a CoE.

EMME-CARE is a project funded by EU-H2020 and its main objective is to establish a Center of Excellence (CoE) called The Climate & Atmosphere Research Centre (CARE-C). The project had a public launching event in Nicosia on October 8th, 2019 (https://www.cyi.ac.cy/index.php/in-focus/public-launching-event-for-the-eastern-mediterranean-middle-east-climate-and-atmosphere-research-centre-emme-care.html), followed by a kickoff meeting where the departments of CARE-C were created. The development of these departments is ongoing following a stepwise plan and the CARE-C center is expected to be ready for long-term operation by the end of the H2020 Teaming project.

One main department that has been created is the Research Infrastructure (RI) department which includes seven RI units: Atmospheric Data Center, Environmental Chemistry Lab, Instrumentation and nanoLab, Cyprus Atmospheric Observatory, Unmanned System Research Lab, Mobile Lab and Environmental Chamber. These units represent the core data source that will feed into the other departments.


6. On the educational aspects of EMME-CARE.

This project is all about increasing knowledge and expertise in the area to find solutions for the challenges ahead based on the accumulated scientific knowledge. Offering education and training opportunities for researchers and students from the area lies at the heart of this mission.Within the framework of the project, an Education and Training office is being established. This office will upgrade and align the Master and Doctoral Programmes in Environmental Sciences offered by CyI with programmers offered at University of Helsinki giving students the chance to have double degrees from both institutes. In addition, it will support the development of open education resources and manage the implementation of the EMME-CARE scholarships and student mobility programmes so lots of educational opportunities will be made available in the area (for more information contact the Education Work Package leader Dr. Katja Lauri).


7. On regional networking activities.

Almost all activities within this project are networking activities. At early stages, Dr. Kimmo Neitola (INAR) began establishing the work collaboration by transferring to the CyL for the period 2016-2018, followed by Dr. Juha Kangasluoma and his collaboration developing aerosol particle instrumentation with CyL. INAR researchers, mainly Dr. Laura Riuttanen and Dr. Päivi Haapanala under the support of Academician Markku Kulmala and Prof. Tuukka Petäjä participated in drafting the Horizon2020 proposal with researchers from other institutes. The road towards getting funded included several project meetings, some in Cyprus and some in Finland, for example a visit was made to Hyytiälä research station (SMEAR II) in March 2018 with the opportunity to show-case the Flagship SMEAR station. All these meetings are networking opportunities!


Picture 1. From left to right, Prof. Jean Sciare and Scientific Coordinator Pierantonious Papazoglou during the visit to Hyytiälä Winter School March 2018.


As a start of the collaboration and before the actual funding, a women team from INAR constituting of Dr. Tuija Jokinen, and PhD students Tiia Laurila and Rima Baalbaki organized a measurement campaign at the Cyprus Atmospheric Observatory with instrumentation shipped from Helsinki. Some of these instruments are still measuring today.



Picture 2. Picture taken in January 2018, our super-women team, from left to right, Tuija Jokinen, Rima Baalbaki, Tiia Laurila


Picture 3. Measurements are still ongoing at the CyI since January 2018. In the picture PhD student Rima Baalbaki doing maintenance for the Airmodus A10 PSM

In May 2018, a team from INAR participated in the “Climate Change in the Mediterranean and the Middle East: Challenges and Solutions” conference and preconference scientific workshops in Cyprus (https://www.climatechange2018.org/). After the proposal was funded by the EU Commission, INAR’s team participated in the Kickoff meeting held in Cyprus in October 2019. Collaboration and exchange continues between the different institutes offering scientists several networking opportunities.



Picture 4 Group picture during the EMME CARE kickoff meeting, October 2019.


Picture 5 Dr. Lubna Dada representing INAR at the kickoff meeting October 2019.

As an example, during the Climate Change workshop held in Cyprus (May 2018), Dr. Lubna Dada met Prof. Cristina Facchini (Institute of Atmospheric Sciences and Climate, CNR-ISAC, Italy). “Little did I know that I will get the chance of a lifetime then.  Markku suggested Cristina as my PhD opponent, as I was close to defending.  This incident is probably one of many where we get to meet scientists on multiple levels and initiate beautiful collaborations not only with the host institute itself but with several members of the collaboration”.  


8. You are from Lebanon, how is it to work for an EMME-region project representing the Finnish partner, INAR? Why is it important?

It is a bit ironic that we [Rima Baalbaki and Lubna Dada] came all the way from Lebanon to Finland to end up working for a project in the EMME region. We did visit Cyprus multiple times when we worked at the American University of Beirut, and particularly in 2013, we participated in the Third LinkSCEEM Thematic Workshop for Climate Research hosted by CyI. Little did we know back then that we would, 7 years later serve as the main correspondents to the EMME-CARE project as part of INAR, Finland, guess it is a small world after all. It was not planned but it is a privilege that most of our Lebanese colleagues do not have. They usually travel abroad and continue their scientific careers with little association to their country or the area. When we were asked to be part of this project, we accepted without further thought mainly because our interest in this project is not only a scientific one, it also stems from a deep desire to see research growing in our countries and these grand challenges addressed. We hope that we can contribute to these capacity building activities taking advantage of all the expertise INAR has and continues to offer us. Additionally, having a Lebanese background, and doing atmospheric research in Beirut, makes us familiar with the culture of Cyprus, and the environment in the region, rather more familiar than people who have not lived in the area and experienced the changing climate there. Lubna: “I remember as a kid, that the air temperature back home never exceeded 30 degrees C, while now, we hear our families suffering from really high temperatures, exceeding 40 degrees during dry hot summer days. Let’s not forget that this project also gave us an opportunity to be in contact with scientists from the region, to collaborate with them and share our expertise. In brief, this project brought home closer and we can even say that it doesn’t only relate to us on a scientific level, but also touches the heart”.


Picture 6. During the Third LinkSCEEM Thematic Workshop for Climate Research hosted by CyI, February 2013.


9. What would be different if you were doing this from a local institute instead?

Our local institutes have offered us a lot in terms of fundamental knowledge and preparing us for a career in research. We were privileged to work at the most renowned university in Lebanon in a multidisciplinary research group that gave us great support and basically introduced us to what research is all about.Despite that, research funding is limited in the area and this is a limiting factor when it comes to research. On the other hand, INAR had offered us to work with state-of-the-art instruments that are not available in our country. It also gave us the opportunity to interact and collaborate with the world’s most renowned researchers in our field. Another remarkable aspect for working at INAR is that hierarchy does not play a big role in defining relationships between researchers. All of these contribute to our faster growth as scientists. Additionally, female scientists are encouraged to lead and not only follow. This atmosphere at INAR of equality between genders makes it easier to work and pursue dreams. We get continuous support, but we are also let independent to make decisions on behalf of our team.



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*Edit made in 22.June 2020 to include Kimmo Neitola's postdoc activities in CyL.