Bridging the gaps between the natural and social sciences

Dr Chantal Claud outlines how the Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines Observatory is bridging the gaps between the natural and social sciences so as to better observe the impacts of climate change.

Created in 2009, Observatoire de Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines (OVSQ) is a joint venture between CNRS (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique) and UVSQ (University of Versailles St-Quentin-en-Yvelines). OVSQ specialises in environmental, climate, and planetary sciences, with associated laboratories and institutes such as:

  • LATMOS (Laboratoire Atmosphere, Milieux, Observations Spatiales);
  • LSCE (Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l’Environnement);
  • CEARC (Culture, Environments, Arctique, Representations, Climat); and
  • IPSL (Pierre-Simon Laplace Institute).

OVSQ actively participates in the fields of climate change and sustainable development at local, national, and international levels. Moreover, the three missions of OVSQ concern surround observation, teaching and research.

Programmes and activities

OVSQ takes part in numerous space programmes supported by the French CNES – Centre National d’Etude Spatiale/National Centre of Space Studies and European the European Space Agency (ESA). It participates with measurement campaigns aimed at improving our knowledge of the Earth and its atmosphere, as well as observing both natural and human environments.

Moreover, OVSQ provides a full and comprehensive observation service with the development of instruments and the collection, analysis, interpretation, and dissemination of datasets. The objective is to better understand the changes in our environment, including their socio-economic and health impacts. OVSQ is responsible for an instrumental platform for the assembling and testing of instruments designed for atmospheric and planetary research. It contributes to SIRTA ((IPSL) Atmospheric Research Observatory) and to the Station Gerard Megie at the Observatoire de Haute Provence.

OVSQ co-ordinates the French contribution to the international monitoring networks NDACC and ICOS. NDACC (the international Network for the Detection of Atmospheric Composition Change) is composed of more than 70 globally distributed research stations which feature instruments that can provide high quality, standardised and long-term measurements of the detection of trends in the overall atmospheric composition. This includes temperatures and trace gases including ozone, particles, and spectral UV radiation reaching the Earth’s surface.

Furthermore, the NDACC has been endorsed by national and international scientific agencies, including the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). NDACC is also a major contributor to the Global Atmosphere Watch (GAW) programme of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), and a key component of the Integrated Global Atmospheric Chemistry Observation (IGACO) initiative.

Greenhouse gases

The global emissions of greenhouse gases by human activity has been accelerating continuously since the industrial revolution, making the atmospheric concentration in CO2 exceeding 400ppm in 2017. In order to maintain the elevation of the global mean temperature below +2°C, a reduction in anthropogenic greenhouse gases emissions by 40-70% is required. An accurate monitoring of the greenhouse gas balance at the global level is urgently needed to be able to measure and assess the impacts of policy reduction on the Earth climate system.

The ICOS European infrastructure is the result of the co-ordinated action of the scientific community to face this challenge. ICOS includes monitoring networks of the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, oceans, and continents, more specifically the carbon dioxide (ecosystems, fossil fuels, cement industry), methane (cattle, natural gas, agriculture) and nitrous oxide (agriculture, fossil fuels, fires). The national network co-ordinated by OVSQ represents 16 monitoring stations.

Education and research

OVSQ aims at encouraging the new generation to think, decide, and act in the field of sustainable development based on observation programmes and studies of environmental sciences.

Education at OVSQ offers students an interdisciplinary culture. Using Master’s programmes, students are given different perspectives through the economic, human, social, and environmental sciences, while emphasis is also placed on international courses and e-learning. The objective is to develop professionals with the skills and competencies required by the socio-economic actors of the 21st century, such as sustainable development project management and risk management.

OVSQ contributes to global environmental and climate research undertaken by the laboratories in the Pierre-Simon Laplace Institute, including participation with the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC). It promotes and supports inter-disciplinary programmes in different sectors, including: history of environment, environment and health, art and sciences, adaptation to climate change, and Arctic studies.

PIT: a platform for testing and assembling scientific instruments

The Plateforme d’Intégration et de Tests (PIT) at OVSQ is an experimental platform dedicated to the integration and assessment of various scientific equipment, especially those designed for satellite missions or aeroplanes/atmospheric balloon campaigns. Open to both the scientific community and private companies, the platform provides services to research teams developing experiments dedicated to Earth observations,as well as planet exploration.

This technical facility has been operated by UVSQ and CNRS since 2014.
The main facilities (mechanical, thermal and optical) consist of:

  • Large integration halls (160 and 80m2) available for regular activities like telescopes, balloon equipment, instrumented buoys
  • Clean rooms (270m2) with several pieces of equipment available to support integration activities: clean welding, 2D and 3D mechanical control, space EEE components storage etc.
  • Thermal and optical vacuum chamber (providing a Martian environment simulation
  • Shakers to ensure that the equipment is robust enough in severe conditions
  • A monochromator which can be coupled with the thermal and optical vacuum chamber
  • Climatic chambers

Additionally, an immersive video wall is available, which allows for data visualisation and post-processing, collaborative work, and decision support. PIT is the integration center for IAOOS (Arctic buoys) and STRATEOLE 2 (stratospheric balloons) projects.

Recently, PIT contributed to various space projects (through instruments integration and/or environmental tests). Some examples include the ESA missions Bepicolombo, Exomars and Euclid, the CNES missions Taranis and Svom, and numerous nanosatellites.
Technical development has also been conducted by PIT, in particular, miniaturised plasma propulsion system for small satellites.

The Arctic – bridging the gaps between the natural and social sciences

Our understanding of the Polar regions, how they are changing, and the implications of these changes have never been more relevant than today. In order to characterise, understand, and adapt to the Arctic’s environmental, socio-economic, and cultural changes, an inter- and trans-disciplinary approach is absolutely necessary. This must involve Arctic and non-Arctic actors. With these issues demanding increasing attention, OVSQ has an essential role to play due to the diversity of its components (natural and social sciences), and its role in observation, education, and research.

OVSQ decided to launch an ambitious interdisciplinary programme in Arctic Studies in 2010 by founding a research centre mainly focused on the humanities, and an international Masters 2 programme entitled ‘Arctic Studies’ has been successfully working ever since. Over 100 French and international students representing more than 10 countries have successfully graduated from the programme so far, with a very high percentage of professional intake. A certain number of PhD projects have emerged from this programme, though not all of them have been conducted at OVSQ.

OVSQ encourages programmes and events where researchers in the social and environmental sciences, as well as indigenous representatives, meet and exchange ideas. Such initiatives enable innovative assessments of environmental, economic, political, and social impacts, vulnerabilities, and adaptive strategies. They contribute to bridging the gaps between the natural and social sciences, science and indigenous knowledge, and the research community and policy-makers. They also set in place community-based observing systems for social and environmental change that creates opportunities for the co-production of knowledge.

This innovative transdisciplinary approach is based on the complementary nature of indigenous and scientific knowledge. Indeed, living in a close relationship with their environment, indigenous people (in Siberia, Greenland) are keen observers of climate change effects. They are faced with the impacts of climate change (such as shortened snow seasons, weather unpredictability, forest fires, and animal species declines), in addition to global changes caused by regional, national, and international policies, as well as the expansion of extractive industries, forestry, and mega-energy development.

Public events and photography exhibitions are regularly organised on this topic; they raise public awareness about the richness of lifestyles and knowledge in Siberia and Greenland, the reality of climate change in the Arctic, and the profound changes in biodiversity (as observed by the nomads).

Dr Chantal Claud
Observatoire de Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines
Université de Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines
+33 180285065

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