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Since the discovery of the so-called ozone hole over Antarctica in 1985, the question of stratospheric ozone depletion has attracted the attention of the international scientific community. Observations from several experimental campaigns, carried out mainly in the polar regions, and the ongoing effort devoted to interpreting the data collected, have resulted in significant improvements in our understanding of this phenomenon. However, further significant progress is required in order to solve remaining uncertainties, and to obtain more quantitative information allowing to predict the future state of the ozonosphere with confidence.
Within this framework the Airborne Polar Experiment (APE) was initiated. This research programme is aimed at studying the physical and chemical processes responsible for ozone loss in the polar stratosphere. The project started in 1995 as a result of an agreement of scientific co-operation between the Ente nazionale per le Nuove tecnologie, l’Energia e l’Ambiente (ENEA), on behalf of the Programma Nazionale di Ricerche in Antartide (PNRA), and the Russian organisations Myasishchev Design Bureau (MDB) and Central Aerological Observatory (CAO). It takes advantage of the potential offered by the Russian M55-Geophysica high-altitude aircraft as a scientific platform to conduct observations in the upper troposphere and lower stratosphere at middle and high latitudes.
Several universities and research institutes in the European Union, Russia, Switzerland and South America are involved in the project. They participate by operating their instruments on board the aircraft and by means of modelling activities and data analysis.

Observation of polar stratospheric clouds at
high altitude made by the ABLE lidar installed
on board the M55-Geophysica during the
APE-POLECAT campaign (backscattering
ratio in parallel polarisation).
(Courtesy of Giorgio Fiocco, La Sapienza
University, Rome).
The first campaign of the APE programme took
place in the Arctic region (APE-POLECAT)
from Rovaniemi in Finland during the winter
1996-97, with the support of the PNRA and the
European Community. Besides verifying the
operation of the aircraft-instrument systems,
this campaign produced important data for the
study of polar stratospheric clouds and the
chemical composition of the Arctic
(Courtesy of Stefano Balestri)