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POWERFUL NEW TOOL TO TRACK ATMOSPHERIC CARBON DIOXIDE BY SOURCE

NOAA Magazine – March 21, 2007

This is fantastic.  NOAA has released a new diagnostic tool that will monitor the changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide and other atmospheric gases by region and by source.  This will allow users to understand the pollution that is being put into the environment.

In the above image “negative fluxes (blue regions) indicate places where uptake of CO2 occurs. Positive fluxes (red colors) indicate places where emissions of CO2 occurs. The figures include biological and fire fluxes, no fossil fuels.”

The online data framework distinguishes between changes in the natural carbon cycle and those occurring in human-produced fossil fuel emissions. It also provides verification for scientists using computer models to project future climate change.

Retired Navy Vice Admiral Conrad Lautenbacher, Ph.D., undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator: “NOAA encourages science that adds benefit to society and the environment. CarbonTracker does both.”

Using the limited data that currently exist, the model can characterize emissions each month among U.S. regions, such as the West or the Southeast. As the observation network becomes denser, however, policymakers will be able to check the CarbonTracker Web site to compare emissions from urban centers. For instance, the resolution will be fine enough to determine the difference in net emissions from Sacramento as compared to San Francisco.

We are moving into an era where emissions could have a price tag. If carbon trading, emissions reduction and sequestration schemes become more common around the globe, society will need the ability to compare their relative value. Accurate and objective information on changing atmospheric concentrations will be essential for both research and impact assessments.

Until now, scientists have relied on limited direct records of atmospheric carbon dioxide, mainly from remote locations. Also, previously available computer models could not maximize the utility of the information derived. Only analyses of very broad global patterns of carbon dioxide emissions and uptake were possible. Estimates of local carbon emissions have used proxy data, such as reported point-source inventories, gasoline sales records, and other tallies from energy organizations and nations monitoring greenhouse gases, but there has been no way to verify what was actually released into the atmosphere.

CarbonTracker uses many more continuous observations than previously taken. The largest concentration of observations for now is from within North America. The data are fed into a sophisticated computer model with 135 ecosystems and 11 ocean basins worldwide. The model calculates carbon release or uptake by oceans, wildfires, fossil fuel combustion, and the biosphere and transforms the data into a color-coded map of sources and storage “sinks.” One of the system’s most powerful assets is its ability to detect natural variations in carbon uptake and release by oceans and vegetation, which could either aid or counteract societies’ efforts to curb fossil fuel emissions on a seasonal basis.

Only the atmosphere itself can give us the real answer on all sources and sinks

However, the global network is still sparse. Using today’s data, the system can distinguish surface emissions on a broad scale, but plans are underway to refine observations and modeling of carbon sources on much smaller scales.

The NOAA Earth System Research Lab is the only institution measuring atmospheric greenhouse gases globally and provides more than half of the world’s data. The network includes individuals gathering air samples in flasks that are then shipped to the Boulder, Colo., lab for analysis, aircraft carrying automated samplers to grab air from higher altitudes, and sensors atop tall towers transmitting data via telephone.

You can read the rest of this article and read more about CarbonTracker here.

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One Response to “POWERFUL NEW TOOL TO TRACK ATMOSPHERIC CARBON DIOXIDE BY SOURCE”

  1. […] have written about the Carbon Tracker service before, but this recent article is very interesting in discussing the lack of understanding that we have […]