A new Mediterranean climate change research centre on the Greek island of Antikythera will collect valuable data to help model the impacts of climate change in the region.

Aside from the Arctic and the Antarctic, the Mediterranean region is one of the regions most affected by climate change. Overall, the area is warming 20% faster than the global average.

Yet until now, there has not been a fully equipped atmospheric research station in southeastern Europe to collect the data needed to create the models that would help predict and plan for the consequences of the climate crisis in the region.

For Dr Manolis Plionis, the director of the National Observatory of Athens, time is of the essence. This past summer of extreme heat waves and widespread forest fires in Greece only underlines the urgency.

“We don’t have data, and we need data to run the climatological models,” says Plionis. “The goal is to have detailed data on a variety of themes, including greenhouse gases, the aerosols in the atmosphere, even dust from the Sahara, and the interaction with the solar energy, to present a clearer picture of what is happening.”

EU funding for Mediterranean climate research centre

With funding from the European Investment Bank and the Greek government, the observatory is building what Plionis calls “a super research station” on the remote island of Antikythera, off the western coast of Crete. All three institutes from the observatory — environmental science, geophysics, and astronomy and astrophysics — will be represented at the new centre, which will be called PANGEA, for Panhellenic Geophysical observatory of Antikythera.

The observatory chose Antikythera, famous for the ancient astronomical calculator the Antikythera Mechanism that was discovered in its waters in 1900, for the new centre because it satisfies multiple criteria:

  • Its remote location and permanent population of less than 20 people mean that human intervention and air pollution are minimal.
  • It is situated at a key crossroads of air currents carrying aerosols like desert dust from the Sahara, air pollution from Athens and Istanbul, and volcanic ash from Mount Etna in Italy.
  • Its atmospheric conditions are ideal for reliable measurements of aerosols and natural background levels of greenhouse gases.
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Labs, dorms and data for Mediterranean climate research centre

PANGEA will include a large research centre, with dorms to house technicians, scientists, and visiting scientists from around Europe. It will have a full range of instruments for gathering data about the atmosphere. There will be labs, space for the equipment of visiting scientists and even a lecture hall. All the energy for PANGEA will come from renewable energy, mainly solar power, according to the plans from the observatory.

The European Investment Bank signed a loan of up to €57.5 million to the Greek state in July 2020 to help finance PANGEA and a new oceanographic vessel for the Hellenic Centre for Marine Research. These projects are expected to take five to six years to complete.

Dr Nikos Mihalopoulos, director of environmental science for the National Observatory of Athens, says that the new research station will have long-term benefits, as well as critical value right now.

“The idea with these state-of-the-art instruments is to decrease the uncertainty of our knowledge, to help the climate modellers increase the accuracy of their predictions for the future,” he says, adding that that information is critical in preparing for changes and crafting policy to prevent the worst outcomes.

At the same time, the effects of climate change are already visible. “The new station will have radars to observe cloud formation, and one of the issues related to the climate crisis is extreme weather events,” Mihalopoulos says. “One of the expectations is an increase in so-called Medicanes — the Mediterranean version of an extreme tropical storm. And we still don’t have the tools to see them form in real time.”

Promoting strategic research for Europe

PANGEA will help keep Greek scientists in Greece, but it will also make the area an important hub for researchers from throughout Europe, Mihalopoulos says. “A very important part of this will be training. Not only for Greek scientists, but for scientists from Europe and the neighbouring countries to have access to these state-of-the-art instruments.”

Financing for scientific projects in Greece is scarce, especially since the financial crisis, explains Costas Kargakos, the loan officer at the European Investment Bank who was instrumental in developing the financing for PANGEA. “The operation supports the efforts of the Greek government to promote investments in strategic research infrastructure,” he says, “and aims at contributing to climate change mitigation and adaptation, a top priority of the bank and of the EU.”