left: At this summer's opening-day ceremonies, U.Va. environmental
sciences professor Bob Swap thanks government dignitaries,
and others, for allowing him and his team to participate in
SAFARI -- the Southern Africa Regional Science Initiative
2000. The project is a massive international effort to study
the atmosphere over southern Africa.
scientist leads team in atmospheric research in Africa
Swap is a big, athletic-looking guy. As a walk-on football player
for the Cavaliers, he went to the Peach Bowl in 1984. An offensive
guard and center, he says he learned the value of teamwork for
achieving success. Today, Swap is a team-building environmental
scientist with a Ph.D. from U.Va. Last year, NASA appointed him
as the U.S. coordinator for the Southern Africa Regional Science
Initiative (SAFARI) 2000, a massive international effort to study
the atmosphere over southern Africa.
as a team member taught me the value of team building," says
Swap, a U.Va. assistant research professor of environmental
sciences. "I understand the importance and complexity
of bringing people together for a common cause."
cause is to better understand how the earth and its atmosphere
interact. The long-term goal of SAFARI is to understand how climate
change affects ecosystems and how human actions affect climate
is a three-year project involving more than 200 scientists from
nine African nations, the U.S., Australia, Britain, Belgium, Canada,
France, Germany, Portugal and Sweden," says Swap.
courtesy of NASA
One of the key instrument towers of the SAFARI 2000 project,
located in Kruger National Park, collects critical research
his role as U.S. coordinator for SAFARI, Swap brought together
government and academic scientists from the U.S. to team up with
colleagues from Africa and Europe for two months this summer.
Members of the team also will periodically visit Africa for additional
data collection in coming years.
our big summer initiative we conducted research on the ground,
and in the air," says Swap. "And we are now in the process
of comparing our data with data from "Terra," NASA's
new Earth Observing System satellite. We are conducting the most
comprehensive study ever of the atmosphere over Africa, the Earth's
second-largest land mass."
says that the air over Africa has a major effect on the air worldwide.
By understanding African air, scientists can better understand
global atmospheric conditions.
"Africa is a big piece of the puzzle," he says. "Our
goal is to characterize the whole regional atmospheric unit in
southern Africa, and eventually integrate it into computer models.
We need to know how Africa fits into the global climate picture."
says southern Africa has undergone a great deal of industrialization
in recent decades. This has dramatically increased air pollution
in the region. African nations also are burning huge expanses
of forest and grasslands to make room for more agricultural land.
The resulting atmospheric carbon could play a role in accelerating
"It is important that we begin to recognize and understand
how land use worldwide affects atmospheric change," he says.
"SAFARI is our chance to get the data right in an important
region of the world."
points out that in coming decades, as African nations come into
their own after years of colonialism, they will play increasingly
important roles in the world economy.
such as this one, were common sights where Swap was conducting
research in Kruger National Park, near Skukuza, South Africa.
of the size of the land these countries occupy, they will have
enormous global bargaining power for both the exploitation of
natural resources and for the sound environmental management of
those resources," Swap says. "It is conceivable that
the more established industrialized nations will eventually find
themselves paying African nations large fees to manage their natural
resources for the global good."
spent a large part of his research time this summer high above
Africa, observing massive fires aboard a SAFARI 2000 research
plane. Five aircraft logged more than 500 hours of flying time
while gathering data -- including a NASA ER-2 research plane,
a modified version of the Air Force's U2 spy plane. The ER2 can
reach the outer edge of the Earth's atmosphere. From these vantage
points, Swap and his team gathered chemical and environmental
information that will be used to help calibrate "Terra's"
U.Va. colleagues in the SAFARI study include Chris Justice, Hank
Shugart, Paul Desanker, Steve Macko and John Albertson, fellow
investigators in Environmental Sciences' Global Environmental
Change Program (GECP), as well as two postdoctoral researchers
and eight graduate students. The GECP team gathered soil, vegetation
and atmospheric data on the ground in Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia,
South Africa and Zambia.
Department of Environmental Sciences has been conducting research
in Africa for many years, Swap says, with more than 15 members
involved in various projects. The department also has an informal
student exchange program set up with institutions in Botswana,
Malawi and South Africa.
says he was selected as U.S. coordinator for SAFARI because he
and his U.Va. team have established close collaboration with several
leading scientists in Africa. He describes the selection as "a
we have a department of such scientifically diverse faculty --
ecologists, hydrologists, earth and atmospheric scientists --
we are perfectly suited to conduct the kind of research that is
important to understanding African land-atmosphere interactions,"