NASA and partners target megacities’ carbon emissions


As world leaders attended the UN Climate Summit 2014, NASA has joined others in an international initiative to monitor the greenhouse gas emissions of Earth's most populous cities.

NASA recently launched Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) satellite which can detect the enhanced levels of carbon dioxide over the world's largest cities and is beginning to study LA in coordination with the Megacities team. The team has also initiated pilot project in Paris. 

The Los Angeles component of the project is jointly funded by the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Keck Institute for Space Studies (KISS).  OCO-2 is actually being designed with a 'city mode'  for the purpose.

"LA is a giant laboratory for climate studies and measurement tests," said Riley Duren of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. "The LA megacity sprawls across five counties, 150 municipalities, many freeways, landfills, oil wells, gas pipelines, America's largest seaport, mountains, and even dairies, all within an area measuring about 80 miles (130 kilometers) on a side. In theory, you could drive across the whole thing in an hour and a half, or three if it's rush hour." 

"While weather satellites tell us about winds, storms and atmospheric moisture, future satellites will also use 'chemical cameras' to map the distributions of greenhouse gases and pollutants over whole continents," said JPL Principal Investigator Stan Sander. 

As days by, the world is continuously being alarmed by the Greenhouse Effect. During the last 150 years, the emission of greenhouse including CO2 into the atmosphere has gone beyond tolerable limits. Weather patterns have changed, sea levels have risen and overall temperature of earth has increased.

Besides exploring the space and other planets and galaxies, NASA has been contributing to climate watch for a long time now. Now, the space agency has collaborated with Megacities team to derive and deliver data about the carbon emissions in the individual megacities of the world.

The megacities have actually become mega-problems for environmental sustainability as many regions are already highly affected by the greenhouse effect. The world's 40 largest cities combined rank as the world's third largest emitter of fossil-fuel carbon dioxide — larger than the total emissions of Japan. 

The accelerated emission of greenhouse gas is highly attributed to human actions. The way we live,i.e., rapid growth of industrialization, increased burning of fossil fuel, deforestation have highly contributed to the increase of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and carbon monoxide (CO) into our planet's atmosphere.

While the forests both emit carbon into the air and absorb it, it's us who are responsible for air pollution. However, it is very difficult to say whether it is fossil fuel burning or the biological activities that are mostly responsible for the greenhouse impact.

The Megacities project aims at obtaining a multi-year measurement of the trend of carbon emissions of individual megacities. Initially, one more city besides LA and  Paris may be included. However more cities may be included after successful establishment of the three-city pilot project. 

A key element of the project will be open and transparent data sharing between the international partners.The data will be linked with other information that decision makers use, such as traffic data. The data derived and shared can be crucial in decision making and better contribution to combating increased carbon emissions into Earth's atmosphere.

Featured image credit: NASA /JPL

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