10-fold increase needed in network to track carbon emissions

April 30th, 2008 - 12:32 pm ICT by admin  

Washington, April 30 (IANS) Monitoring greenhouse gas levels will require a global data collection network 10 times larger than the current set-up, according to a study. Scientists propose increasing the number of measurement sites from 100 to 1,000, which would decrease the uncertainty in computer models and help scientists better quantify changes.

The study’s authors, Melinda Marquis and Pieter Tans, said the need for improved monitoring was imperative in view of atmospheric carbon concentrations now at 385 parts per million, ScienceDaily reported.

“The question is whether scientists in the US and around the world have what they need to monitor regional fluxes in atmospheric carbon dioxide,” said Marquis. “Right now, they don’t.”

While carbon dioxide levels are climbing by two parts per million annually - a rate expected to increase as China and India continue to industrialise - effective regional carbon dioxide monitoring strategies are virtually nonexistent, she added.

Scientists are limited in their ability to distinguish between distant and nearby carbon sources and “sinks” - or storage areas - by the accuracy of atmospheric models that reflect details of terrain, winds and the mixing of gases.

“We are in uncharted territory as far as knowing how safe these high carbon dioxide levels are for the Earth,” she said.

“Instead of tackling a very complex challenge with the equivalent of Magellan’s maps, we need to use the equivalent of Google Earth.” Scientists currently sample carbon dioxide using air flasks, on location measurements from transmitter towers up to 2,000 feet high and via aircraft sensors.

The authors proposed putting additional carbon dioxide sensors on existing and new transmitter towers that can gather large volumes of climate data.

While Europe and the US have small networks of tall transmitter towers equipped with carbon dioxide measuring instruments, such towers are rare on the rest of the planet, she said.

Findings of the study have appeared in the latest issue of the journal Science.

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