Satellites can track CO2 emissions in real time
To ensure that countries meet their climate commitments, more needs to be done to control “super-emitters” such as power plants, megacities, refineries and giant factories. Together, they are responsible for nearly half of humanity’s total greenhouse gas production.
Today, scientists have shown that for these large carbon dioxide super-emitters, “source tracking” is already possible, even with existing satellites.
A new study published in Frontiers of remote sensing undertook a ‘proof of principle’, using five years of carbon dioxide measurements from NASA’s Orbital Carbon Observatory 2 (OCO-2) and OCO-3 – which is attached to the ISS.
The researchers found that they were able to track emissions from Europe’s largest fossil fuel power plant – the Bełchatόw power plant in Poland – 10 times over 5 years. Each of these tracked broadcasts – referred to as “top-down” reports – closely matched what the central believes it had issued at that time – referred to as “up-stream” reports.
“European power plants publicly report annual emissions and hourly electricity production,” said first author Ray Nassar, senior researcher at Environment and Climate Change Canada. Cosmos.
“When electricity production is reported as having decreased (due to temporary or permanent shutdowns of units), the [satellites can] detect these changes.
This is great news for researchers, and bad news for big emitters, because in the next few years the EU plans to launch its CO2Pair of M satellites (Copernicus Anthropogenic CO2 Monitoring Mission). They will have about 50 times more observing coverage than OCO-2 and OCO-3 and will be able to monitor smaller sources of carbon dioxide emissions.
The CO2 is emitted from the 300 meter high chimneys in Bełchatów and the invisible plume, 10 to 50 km long, is blown about 550 meters above the Earth. OCO-2, which orbits the Earth at an altitude of 705 km, passes every 16 days near or directly above Bełchatów. OCO-3 orbits at a lower altitude and passes more frequently near Bełchatów.
Unfortunately, top-down reports don’t provide insight every time. Satellites can assess the carbon dioxide emitted from a source only when there are no clouds and when the plume is not passing over large bodies of water or mountains. This means that conditions must be ideal for recording carbon dioxide levels.
Measuring additional carbon dioxide from a source is more difficult than other gases like nitrogen dioxide or methane due to its lack of reactivity.
“The more reactive a gas is, the easier it is to observe its improvement above the background noise. If a gas is very reactive like nitrogen dioxide, it quickly disappears. Maps of a reactive gas like nitrogen dioxide easily show ‘hot spots’, where it is emitted,” says Nassar.
“Carbon dioxide is very unreactive, so it stays in the atmosphere long after it’s been emitted – that’s also a reason why it’s such a problem for climate change. Earth’s entire atmosphere contains already about 415 PPM of carbon dioxide, so emissions from a power plant only cause improvements in the order of a few PPM, making it a little harder to detect and quantify. But (with Bełchatów ), we were working with a large/strong carbon dioxide source, which is easier.
Another greenhouse gas also emitted by fossil fuels – methane – is easier to monitor and more regular top-down reporting can be done. The UN recently announced a global satellite-based methane monitoring system.
“Top-down satellite broadcast monitoring is still in its infancy,” says Nassar. “Over the next 5 years, a slew of new satellite missions will be launched, designed specifically to monitor carbon dioxide, methane and other gases.
“Countries report economic indicators (unemployment rate, housing prices, inflation, etc.) monthly or better in some cases, to gauge the direction of the economy.
“Environmental/climate data requires more frequent and detailed reporting, with shorter timelines to reflect their importance and guide decision makers to help reduce emissions. Satellites can help provide this information.