Sensors Mag

Tracking Carbon Dioxide

July 24, 2009 By: Melanie Martella, Sensors

E-mail Melanie Martella

With all the talk of climate change and the role of greenhouse gases, their control and (ideally) their decrease, it should be no surprise that monitoring carbon dioxide—on rooftops in cities, over the ocean, and in rural areas—is an area of enthusiastic research.

The AP News article "Scientists zoom in on carbon dioxide in NYC", describes one such monitoring project run by Wade McGillis of Columbia University. The Lamont Atmospheric Carbon Observation Project (LACOP) has set up monitoring stations around New York City to monitor how the carbon dioxide levels within the city fluctuate during the day and over much longer time periods. The aim is to assess what factors influence the carbon dioxide concentration within the city and to quantify those effects.

Meanwhile, the North American Carbon Program (NACP), is devoted to understanding and researching the various carbon sources and sinks in North America. The research effort involves collaboration between NASA, NIST, NOAA, NSF, the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE), the EPA, USGS, and the USDA.

On a larger scale, NOAA's Earth System Research Laboratory, Global Monitoring Div., has created CarbonTracker, designed to calculate the uptake and release of carbon dioxide all over the Earth's surface.

And this list doesn't even include all of the smaller projects in the U.S. or the international research and collaboration! For instance, the International Carbon Dioxide Conference that started in 1981 and occurs every four years. (This year's event will be held in Jena, Germany.) To sum up, a lot of very smart people are doing all they can to measure how much carbon dioxide we have, where and how it's stored, where and how it's released, and how it moves. Long-term measurements of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration from Mauna Loa and the carbon dioxide fluctuations experienced in downtown Manhattan, all act as elements of the much bigger picture. More data, better data leads to better models, better forecasting and, ultimately, a better understanding of how to manage our carbon dioxide emissions.

Widening Scope

Research aside, power plants are currently required to measure how much carbon dioxide they produce. If carbon dioxide control systems (cap and trade systems or a carbon tax to name the two front-runners) become a reality, then carbon dioxide monitoring is going to become a standard measurement for many more of us.

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