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Finding answers to societal atmospheric challenges

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All our activities have one goal in common: the broadening of our knowledge of the atmospheres of celestial bodies... to find answers to the societal challenges related to the natural environment we live in.
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Over the years, aeronomy has become a scientific discipline that covers a vast variety of topics. The Royal Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy (BIRA-IASB) has evolved with this trend. That makes it more difficult to make a representative choice out of all the research topics and the resulting services that we deal with at the Institute, with every new edition of this activity report.

One of the highlights of the past year is certainly the successful observation of the Martian atmosphere by the NOMAD instrument, of which the Principal Investigator is a scientist at BIRA-IASB. Also worth mentioning is the launch of the first atmospheric Sentinel mission (S5P), that provides information about ozone, air quality and climate, and in which BIRA-IASB plays a key role. The success of the Open Doors can be highlighted as well: the event was organized in collaboration with our partner institutes in Uccle during the last weekend of September and attracted around 10 000 visitors!

All these activities have one goal in common: the broadening of our knowledge of the atmospheres of celestial bodies, as a contribution to the scientific legacy of our country, and to find answers to the societal challenges related to the natural environment we live in. Challenges to which we are confronted today, not only in Belgium but also on a global scale. These challenges concern, among others:

  • the impact of emissions on climate change and air quality
  • the recovery of the ozone layer which protects us against strong UV radiation from the Sun
  • the impact of space weather on aviation

As can be understood from the projects presented above, the Institute plays a prominent role in the international research community, within the European space program supported by Belgium, and within the Copernicus initiative. Copernicus is the European Union’s Earth observation program aiming at the provision of information and services concerning our planet and its environment to all European citizens, based on satellite and other so-called in-situ observations.

The Institute is also an important partner of the Belgian industry and contributes to education at Belgian universities.

Furthermore, BIRA-IASB sets up exhibitions and gives lectures at schools and for the general public. It is somewhat deplorable to find that, despite the Institute’s international recognition and appreciation by the public, the support from the federal government is declining (as is the case for all federal scientific institutions), resulting in difficult working conditions. This threatens the international reputation of federal research and will, in the foreseeable future, harm the competitiveness of the Institute as a partner in international projects.

At present, it is a valuable asset of the Royal Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy that it can count on a large number of dynamic employees:

  • scientists who are passionate about the many aspects of research in aeronomy and its importance for society
  • administrative/technical employees who are always committed to the support of science and the efficient functioning of the institute

I am extremely grateful to them. However, because of the difficult working conditions and uncertain future perspectives there is a risk that competent researchers might look for work abroad or that employees lose their motivation.

Nevertheless, I keep hoping that together we will continue to have the opportunity in the future to play our trump cards by bringing innovative work, to contribute to the knowledge society, and to offer the citizen high-quality scientific information and services.

In this online version of the annual report, you will discover numerous examples of our contributions to the aforementioned goals. I invite you to start exploring these fascinating topics.


Martine De Mazière

General Director a.i.

14 December 2018

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The Open Doors attracted more than 10 000 visitors.
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