How could we accurately measure changes in anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO2), if a global treaty mandated specific reductions? A group of scientists from Harvard University and the University of Utah have recently developed a new strategy for calculating the changes in CO2 concentrations in the air. Their report was published in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences for the week of May 8, 2012.
The new method is based on a theory that CO2 concentration data can be combined with weather patterns to mathematically determine emissions obtained using that information. The data (CO2 concentrations and weather patterns) can be gathered from CO2 measurement instruments, weather stations information, and satellite data. A computer simulation model using the data is able to detect changes in CO2 emissions of 15 percent or more. This method could prove to be very useful, as many firms, primarily electric generation utilities, are under reporting their hypothetical CO2 emissions.
Jim Ehleringer, professor of biology at the University of Utah and lead researcher, has been tracking CO2 concentrations in the Salt Lake Valley for over a decade. It was this research that led him to develop the new tracking method. Ehleringer used data from the Salt Lake Valley research as a test run for the computer simulation. He was able to predict estimates for CO2 emissions that were within 15 percent or better of the actual emissions for the region. Additionally, the simulation showed how ground-level CO2 concentrations increased overnight when air was calm, and then decreased in the morning as sunlight mixed the air and plants photosynthesized.
It may not be the most precise measurement technique; however it is certainly a step in the right direction. Elheringer argues that the most accurate method for measuring CO2 concentration is through the use of high powered satellites. Currently, there are a handful of satellites that make limited measurements of CO2; however none of these possess the orbiting or targeting capabilities needed for effective long-term tracking. This method could prove to be an extremely useful tool for tracking CO2, especially if the U.S. government decides to develop rules for its regulation.