Should nations of the world ever see fit to sign a treaty limiting emissions of climate-warming carbon dioxide gas, scientists from the University of Utah and Harvard have developed a way to verify compliance.
Using measurements from three carbon-dioxide-monitoring stations in the Salt Lake Valley, the method could reliably detect changes in CO2 emissions of 15 percent or more, the researchers report.
This CO2 detection method — published by the researchers in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences for the week of May 14, 2012 — is a proof-of-concept first step, say the study authors, adding that satellite monitoring of carbon dioxide levels ultimately may be more accurate than the ground-based method developed in the new study.
“The primary motivation for the study was to take high-quality data of atmospheric CO2 in an urban region and ask if you could predict the emissions patterns based on CO2 concentrations in the air,” says study coauthor Jim Ehleringer, a professor of biology at the University of Utah.
“The ultimate use is to verify CO2 emissions in the event that the world’s nations agree to a treaty to limit such emissions,” he says. “The idea is can you combine concentration information – CO2 in the air near the ground – and weather patterns, which is wind blowing, and mathematically determine emissions based on that information.”
This could be great news if compliance for limiting greenhouse gases ever becomes tracked and reported.
“The model [new method] predicts more CO2 emissions than we see,” based on a federal government survey that previously estimated carbon dioxide emissions based on interviews with gas and coal-burning utilities and sellers of fuel and natural gas, he says. “That shouldn’t surprise you. People are underreporting.”
Ehleringer began monitoring carbon dioxide levels in the Salt Lake Valley in 2002 as part of a National Science Foundation–funded study of the urban airshed. The monitoring network measures CO2 from six sites across the Salt Lake Valley and a seventh well above the valley at Snowbird.
“It is the most extensive publicly available and online data set of CO2 concentrations in an urban area in the world,” he says.
The new study created a computer simulation of CO2 emissions in the Salt Lake Valley using three sources of information:
- CO2 measurements from three sites – the University of Utah, downtown Salt Lake City and Murray, Utah, about halfway south down the valley’s length.
- Data from weather stations in the valley, crunched through weather forecasting software used to predict wind and air circulation.
- Satellite data showing what parts of the valley are covered by homes, other buildings, trees, agriculture and so on.
The emissions estimates from the simulation were compared with the results of the government survey that estimates CO2 emissions. “You come up with estimates for emissions that are within 15 percent or better of the actual emissions for the region,” Ehleringer says.
Source: AAAS EurekAlert
Photo Credit: Lee J. Siegel, University of Utah
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