Climate Observatory in Rwanda Will Inform Policy, Says Mit Don [interview]

Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Centre for Global Change Science are in advanced stages to start a climate observatory centre in Rwanda, next year, with an aim of collecting atmospheric observations from the slopes of Mt. Karisimbi, a volcano located in the northwest of Rwanda. The project is spearheaded by Prof. Ron Prinn, a professor of atmospheric science, department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences at the university. The New Times Solomon Asaba had an interview with him. Excerpts.

Whom are you collaborating with to start this observatory and how much has been achieved so far?

The observatory is a partnership between the Government of Rwanda and the MIT Centre for Global Change Science. We already have in place an interim observatory that has been placed on Mt. Mugogo and is operated mainly by Rwandans.

What kind of information will be obtained at the observatory and who will have access to its final site?

The observatory will measure the composition of air coming from East and South Africa as well as the Middle East and India.

The final site for the observatory is the summit of Mt. Karisimbi. When the Cable Car for ecotourism is complete, all scientists will be in position to access this summit.

How will Rwandans benefit from this kind of modern facility?

If the observatory is successful, it will help educate Rwandans interested in atmospheric science. It will join the Advanced Global Atmospheric Gases Experiment (Agage), a global network measuring greenhouse gases and other climate driving agents. Rwandans are already on their way to running the observatory.

What kind of agreement stands between MIT and the Rwandan government concerning the setup of this project?

The observatory belongs to Rwanda but MIT provides scientific and technical expertise and funding for the instruments.

When is the project expected to start and how much of the funding are you looking at, do we have the capacity to fund this project or there are other bodies involved?

It has already started, with infrastructure setups and there are several operations funded by the Ministry of Education (Mineduc) whereas most of the instruments are provided by MIT.

Why have you decided to set up the observatory site in Rwanda and besides who else will benefit from the establishment?

There was no on site high frequency station in the entire Africa measuring the over 30 powerful greenhouse gases driving climate change. Focus for setting up this observatory in Rwanda was stimulated by visits to MIT by President Paul Kagame and his ministers between 2008 and 2009, seeking ideas about ways to enhance science and technology in Rwanda.

As one of the ideas, the observatory was put forward by MIT and was chosen for implementation. This Rwandan Observatory is the first Agage station in Africa and will help address the “data challenge” in Africa and generate long-term calibrated climate measurements.

Rwanda and its neighbouring East and South African nations will benefit from the data and knowledge generated by the Observatory.

Statistics indicate that last year was hotter compared to previous years. As a climate expert, why was this so and should such changes wary Rwandans?

There is empirical evidence that the global average temperature records being set in recent decades are driven largely by the emission of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere due to human activity, especially fossil fuel combustion.

Rwanda is already experiencing significant warming and projections show even more warming during this century. The country needs to prepare for this climate change to minimize damages and maximize benefits.

Several Rwandan students are currently being trained in the field of climate and are expected to pioneer the project in data monitoring. How many are they and what kind of fields are they involved in?

There are five Rwandan scientists already involved. The site at Magogo is operated by four graduate Rwandan technicians trained by MIT scientists. Also, one of my MIT doctoral students, Jimmy Gasore, a Rwandan who obtained his bachelors degree in physics at the National University of Rwanda (UR), is involved in that training.

The project is coordinated with the help of the secretariat coordinated by Julius Nkusi, a Rwandan and vital member of the team. However Gasore will be the first person to obtain a MIT doctoral degree from doing measurements at the observatory and analyzing them.

It is understood that the first records from the site will be used to generate a curriculum for a master’s degree, what is the likely criterion for enrolling the students for this course

The Masters degree in atmospheric and climate science at the UR has been approved by government and will begin in September this year. I understand that an announcement for applications will be made soon.

After collecting information from this observatory site, how are you going to use it?

The greenhouse gas and climate data will be compared to computer models of the atmosphere and climate and used to improve these models for application to planning the future development of energy and water resources, agriculture, cities, buildings and transportation in Rwanda and neighbouring nations.

Because climate change is an urgent issue, how can Rwandans minimise damage to the climate?

There are many ways but the most important is to increase efficiency in the use of energy in transportation and the way the buildings are constructed. Modern buildings can be constructed in such a way that they do not require a lot of energy for warning or cooling.

There are several global projects to address the challenges within our climate, how are Rwandans involved in these projects

While there are some Rwandans involved in various climate-related activities, the Climate Observatory will be the first high technology measurement endeavour in Rwanda that we hope will inspire other worthy climate science projects.

Many of these innovations have only come and stopped at the stage of innovation, what is the way forward to ensure that this project finally pays off.

Efforts are underway to link the activities at the observatory with education at UR, line ministries and the public sector.

This is designed to ensure that the scientific knowledge gained is widely applied to inform decision-making in industries and policy-making in the government.