Scientist To Lead U.S. Team This Summer In Atmospheric Research
14, 2000 -- Bob Swap is a big athletic-looking guy.
As a walk-on football player for the University of Virginia Cavaliers,
he went to the Peach Bowl in 1984. An offensive guard and center,
he learned the value of teamwork for achieving success. Today, Swap
is a team-building environmental scientist with a Ph.D. from U.Va.
Recently 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.
In his role as U.S. coordinator for SAFARI, he has brought together
government and academic scientists from the U.S. to team up in August
and much of September with colleagues from Africa and Europe. The
long-term goal of the project is to understand how climate change
affects ecosystems and how human actions affect climate change.
is a three-year project involving scientists from seven African
nations, the U.S., Britain, Belgium, France, Germany, Portugal and
Sweden," says Swap. "We will be conducting research on the ground,
in the air, and we will be 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 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
is a big piece of the puzzle," Swap says.
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 global warming, Swap says.
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.
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 possible that the more established industrialized
nations will eventually find themselves paying African nations large
fees to manage their natural resources for the global good."
will spend a good deal of his time this summer above Africa, aboard
one of the SAFARI 2000 research planes. NASA also is sending an
ER-2 research plane, a modified version of the Air Force's U2 spy
plane which can reach the outer edge of the Earth's atmosphere.
From these vantage points, Swap and his team will gather chemical
and environmental data that can later be used to help calibrate
U.Va. colleagues in Africa will include Chris Justice, Hank Shugart
and Paul Desanker, fellow members of U.Va.'s Global Environmental
Change Program (GECP), as well as a postdoctoral researcher and
four graduate students. The GECP team will gather 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, 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 has
established close collaborations with several leading scientists
in Africa. He describes his selection as "a natural fit."
I work in 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," he says.
Farris Samarrai, (804) 924-3778