Carbon satellite to serve as an important tool for politicians and climate change experts

From the “we can issue violations from space, think of the revenue!” department comes this press release from the University of Copenhagen. Headline is theirs, not mine.

Carbon satellite to serve as an important tool for politicians and climate change experts

A new satellite that measures and provides detailed carbon balance information is one of the most important new tools in carbon measurement since infrared light, believe researchers from the University of Copenhagen. The researchers expect the satellite to be a valuable tool for the UN’s work on climate change related to the Paris climate accord.

Carbon balance is important for climate and environment because whenever carbon is converted into carbon dioxide, CO2 emissions increase. On the other hand, carbon is an essential aspect of life on Earth: a felled tree releases carbon into the atmosphere whereas a planted one takes up carbon in vegetation and soil. A lack of carbon in vegetation and soil can create a carbon imbalance and have climate-related consequences.

University of Copenhagen researchers have tested a new French satellite that can measure carbon balance far more precisely than the current method, which uses aerial photography. The satellite uses low-frequency passive microwaves to measure the biomass of above ground vegetation. The studies have recently been published in Nature Ecology and Evolution.

“This is one of the biggest steps related to carbon measurement since infrared measurements were developed in the 1970s,” according to Postdoc Martin Stefan Brandt of the Department of Geosciences and Natural Resources Management, who is the researcher behind the study.

“The new satellite can measure emissions from all types of vegetation – including trunks and branches, not just the crowns as has been the case until now. This presents a much more detailed account of the carbon balance in the region concerned.”

Vital for further work on climate change

The group of Danish researchers took an image of the African continent for seven years. The satellite made it possible to produce a detailed map of the carbon balance across the whole of Africa.

The group of Danish researchers took an image of the African continent for seven years. The satellite made it possible to produce a detailed map of the carbon balance across the whole of Africa.

Over the seven years, the researchers documented that drought and deforestation had a dramatic influence on carbon emissions, which has a negative effect on climate. For this reason, it is important to have a tool on hand for monitoring changes to the landscape.

“We will need to understand how various factors like deforestation and drought affect the carbon balance in order to provide a knowledge base for experts and politicians whose job it is to make decisions related to work on climate change,” says Martin Stefan Brandt.

The satellite can prove to be an important tool for future work on climate change and the reduction of CO2 emissions. For example, researchers expect that the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will be able to use the satellite in relation to the Paris climate accord because it is well suited to present emissions by country.

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The paper: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41559-018-0530-6

Satellite passive microwaves reveal recent climate-induced carbon losses in African drylands

The African continent is facing one of the driest periods in the past three decades as well as continued deforestation. These disturbances threaten vegetation carbon (C) stocks and highlight the need for improved capabilities of monitoring large-scale aboveground carbon stock dynamics. Here we use a satellite dataset based on vegetation optical depth derived from low-frequency passive microwaves (L-VOD) to quantify annual aboveground biomass-carbon changes in sub-Saharan Africa between 2010 and 2016. L-VOD is shown not to saturate over densely vegetated areas. The overall net change in drylands (53% of the land area) was −0.05 petagrams of C per year (Pg C yr−1) associated with drying trends, and a net change of −0.02 Pg C yr−1 was observed in humid areas. These trends reflect a high inter-annual variability with a very dry year in 2015 (net change, −0.69 Pg C) with about half of the gross losses occurring in drylands. This study demonstrates, first, the applicability of L-VOD to monitor the dynamics of carbon loss and gain due to weather variations, and second, the importance of the highly dynamic and vulnerable carbon pool of dryland savannahs for the global carbon balance, despite the relatively low carbon stock per unit area.

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56 thoughts on “Carbon satellite to serve as an important tool for politicians and climate change experts

  1. “The new satellite can measure emissions from all types of vegetation – including trunks and branches, not just the crowns as has been the case until now.”
    I question how accurate the trunk and branch measurements will be if the canopy is thick. Branches and leaves will tend to absorb and scatter the microwaves. Going to low frequencies may improve the situation, but I doubt that the problem will be eliminated entirely.

    • I think you hit on the most important aspect of this new “toy”. They seem to be really proud that the new satellite can measure the carbon balance with great precision. My query: that’s all fine and good. But, can it do it ACCURATELY! That’s the big question…

      • This is climate science we are talking about…it just need to be measured to 26 decimal places to impress the masses. The fact that it is off in the first significant digit by an order of magnitude is irrelevant!

      • Using satellite infrared imagery for determining the quantity of CO2 in near-surface environments ……… makes as much sense as counting rabbit tracts in the snow for determining the number of wild rabbits living in a specific locale.

      • AussieBear, I think the answer to your question is clearly “No”.
        Look at the image. The quality of the data allows them to only produce a scale running from more (green) to less (red). People with good data show it to you and put numbers on the scale. Whenever you read a scientific paper, it helps to remind yourself that “this is their best data”.
        You can also make some guesses from reading the quote

        “This is one of the biggest steps related to carbon measurement since infrared measurements were developed in the 1970s,” according to Postdoc Martin Stefan Brandt of the Department of Geosciences and Natural Resources Management, who is the researcher behind the study.”

        They say there is no honor in self praise, and this guy has plenty of that available.

  2. No doubt cities like Copenhagen will be emitting more CO2 than absorbing. Oh, dear…

  3. Well, they’re going to find lots and lots and lots of carbon.
    Oh? They meant carbon dioxide? This deliberate perversion of language pisses me off.

    • They are trying to measure carbon.
      They measure plant matter, above the surface, and estimate the amount of carbon in the plants.
      I question both their ability to do this to a useful accuracy and the relevance of the number.

    • Eustace,
      There is a good -scientific- reason to use carbon instead of carbon dioxide: in the atmosphere it is mainly CO2 but in seawater it is roughly 1% CO2, 90% bicarbonate and 9% carbonate. In plants it is only CO2 for a fraction of a second, then it gets sugars, starch, cellulose and a lot of other carbon containing molecules…
      In all cases, the amount of carbon in the exchanges between sources (CO2) and sinks (starch,…) remains the same. That is the only reason to use carbon as unit, not in CO2 “equivalents”…

  4. Didn’t we see a different CO2 satellite a couple years or so, starting out by showing huge CO2 cloud over Atlantic west of Africa, and a couple others; with less CO2 at the poles? My recollection is it raised doubt about the “well-mixed gas” stuff, and it was shut down (temporarily, but never came back on)? I guessed that some CliSci guy realized that if CO2 concentrations vary, one could do a field experiment (now THAT would be unprecedented!) to show temps higher in higher CO2 areas. Or not, which is why they had to shut it down. And the thought of a field experiment was abhorrent to computer modellers.

    • paul courtney: “… raised doubt about the “well-mixed gas” stuff …” [of atmospheric CO2 ]
      If CO2 is NOT a well-mixed gas, then all ice core trend analysis is rendered completely meaningless.

    • You mean like this? Looks like we in the US are not the problem. I bet the temps are higher in the topics but don’t think it’s the co2. Maybe higher temps result in more co2. What a thought! Someone with a stat pack on their computer could do some correlations of the old data from this satellite with temps. Of course then it would be what’s causing what.
      https://www.google.com/search?q=satellite+map+of+co2&prmd=inmv&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiA6r3w0_baAhVI5IMKHaEtBwQQ_AUIESgB&biw=1280&bih=752#imgrc=kRW3ayOOn1mbqM:

      • JimG,
        What you see on the satellites is the circulation of CO2 via the great conveyor belt: where deep ocean waters are upwelling, a lot of CO2 (~40 GtC/year) is released in the tropics. That is completely + somewhat more absorbed in the cold sinking waters near the poles and after some 800 years returned to the atmosphere in the tropics.
        Net result: about 3 GtC/year more sink than source, thus not the cause of the CO2 increase in the atmosphere, despite a slight increase of ocean surface temperatures.

    • Well mixed doesn’t imply that at every point in the atmosphere the same levels of every gas is found. That is only possible if there were no instant sources and sinks. For most active gases like O2 and CO2 there are lots of momentary sinks and sources. These are highest near ground over land, where you can find over 600 ppmv under inversion at night and 250 ppmv during full photosynthesis during the day within a forest.
      If you measure in the middle of a(n ice) desert or on top of a mountain or on a ship or bare island in the middle of the oceans you will find “background” CO2 levels which are within 2% of full scale worldwide, despite that seasonal CO2 exchanges with other reservoirs are over 20% of all CO2 in the air.
      I call that well mixed…

      • Ferdinand Engelbeen – Thank you for your informative reply.
        Do you have an idea of how CO2 concentrations vary due to elevation/altitude? If CO2 is heavier than air then I suspect that the concentration falls off with elevation. How does Denver compare with Miami for example?

      • CO2 is very poorly mixed at low altitude. It can vary by about 80% from place to place, from time of day, day/night, wind conditions, seasons etc. This is why the IPCC rejected the Beck reanalysis of the 19th and 20th century chemical analysis that showed CO2 varying to well over 400 ppm before 1940. With such a wide variation, about 80% of a doubling, one might imagine that one could detect a warming signal if sensitivity to CO2 is high as many cAGW proponents claim, but I have never seen any experiment on this performed.
        CO2 is reasonably well mixed at high altitude, as Ferdinand suggests. From the OCO satellite data it would appear that the variation in CO2 at high altitude is about 15 ppm on approximately 395 ppm, eg lows of about 380 ppm and highs of about 410 ppm. This data and imagery was posted on this site a couple of years back.

      • richard verney, May 9, 2018 at 1:31am.
        The first of those graphs is a bit startling, Richard. It shows atmospheric CO2 anti-correlating with air temperature!

      • richard verney: ” With such a wide variation, about 80% of a doubling, one might imagine that one could detect a warming signal if sensitivity to CO2 is high as many cAGW proponents claim, but I have never seen any experiment on this performed.”
        That is exactly what I was imagining. Alas, there is no science being applied to detect a warming signal.
        I was also imagining that the eruption and lava flows in Hawaii would provide an opportunity to detect a warming signal. Elevated levels of CO2, elevated surface temperatures, is the lava warmer than it would be without CO2 above it? Any science being applied to detect a warming signal?
        Cassio – Excellent observation!

      • Thomas Homer,
        There is not much difference between CO2 levels near ground level (in non-vegetation or other active areas) and up to 30 km height. That is because of the brownian movement where any molecule is getting in collissions with every other molecule in a mixture in every direction. Add to that wind (sidewards, upwards, downwards,…) and CO2 is constantly mixed and moved around. Even much larger and heavier Sahara sand dust settles here after 3000 km of lifting with the wind…
        Exception is when air is locked in snow and the pores are getting smaller and smaller: at a certain depth there is no air movement anymore in and out the pores and the air remains stagnant. At that moment the heavier isotopes and molecules tend to enrich in the bottom of the stagnant air where the bubbles are fully closing. For ice core CO2 (and other gases) measurements, that is compensated for by measuring the 15N/14N ratio in the bubbles, which gives the base for all compensation factors needed for all isotopes and molecules compared to the original 15N/14N ratio. For CO2 that is less than 1% change after 40 years in stagnant air…
        For the levels in the atmosphere, here an overview:
        https://667-per-cm.net/2015/08/04/atmospheric-concentration-of-co2-as-a-function-of-altitude/ which are the graphs obtained by satellites (and checked by air flight data) from:
        https://www.atmos-chem-phys.net/11/2455/2011/acp-11-2455-2011.pdf
        Most differences are seasonal, which is slower and less pronounced with altitude and opposite in the SH.

      • Casio,
        It is not the temperature at work. It is the sun which restarts the photosynthesis of the vegetation, which uses every molecule in the bottom layer of the atmosphere it can grab… Temperature has a side effect: when it gets warmer, the inversion is broken and there is a better mix with the above air layers, so the plants get more fresh CO2. If there is little mixing, CO2 levels can drop even below 200 ppmv during the day…

    • Thanks for the replies, especially R. Verney and T, Homer. My “well-mixed” remark was a bit snide, but it got me to the point you guys clearly got- with all the research $ flowing, not a dollar goes to setting up an actual experiment, which could at least support the greenhouse gas hypothesis in the atmosphere. Why not? Are they worried about finding “non-temp sensitive” CO2, like the “non-temp sensitive” tree rings M. Mann had to cull out of his data?

      • Paul Courtney,
        The effect of increasing CO2 from 0.003% to 0.004% in 150 years on temperature is barely measurable. All what we have for sure is how much backradiation comes from that increase (was measured at two ground stations over a longer period, was reported here a few years ago) and we have what satellites measured as less outgoing IR flux in the CO2 bands. How that translates to temperature is another question: theoretically about 1 K for 2xCO2 (560 ppmv), in reality a big guess.
        Local near-ground concentrations of 500 ppmv or more have little effect: you need the CO2 change in the full 70 km air column to have the full effect. If you use Modtran and calculate the influence of 1000 ppmv in the first 1000 meter of air, that gives less than 0.1 K local temperature increase. Most local CO2 level influences are gone above a few hundred meters of air column and don’t reach 1000 ppmv. Thus simply unmeasurable…

  5. I would like to see a similar picture of the tropical pacific where their is less probability of anthropogenic emissions. Would the IPPC fine tropical islands for high natural emissions?

    • “tropical pacific where their is less probability of anthropogenic emissions”
      I have that 60% of the time. Been monitoring it for the last 5 years, but not continuously as I don’t get funding, so the datalogger is not on a dedicated system. (WIndows 10 is too unreliable, needs no excuse for turning itself off, and I don’t have the time or resources for a Linux set-up). There are occasional late afternoon spikes in the summer that could be “carbon pipe” effects eg outgassing, There are substantial mangrove and seagrass beds in the flow path, so there is a diurnal flux from photosynthesis. No evidence that the concentration has changed much over time.

  6. Soon there will be an app that calculates your CO2 bill from orbit and settles with your bank account at the end of the day.
    I should be advising the globalist goons, I have a knack for it I think.

  7. The new satellite can measure (CO2) emissions from all types of vegetation – including trunks and branches, not just the crowns as has been the case until now.

    The above posted map of Africa shows a tremendous DECREASE in CO2 emissions for the north-central portion of the Kalahari Desert in east Africa …… and I was justa wundering what the “green-growing” desert biomass was …… that is no longer the proficient “green-growing” desert biomass as it was during the previous seven (7) years?
    http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-MhdMpYDMSzs/UMAmixiBZ1I/AAAAAAAAADk/vnFCY7CqlD4/s1600/afnewlnd.gif

  8. So what are we going to do when someone’s carbon ( hey, isn’t it CO2?) balance is duff? Send in the UN in their white land rovers and mosquito nets to machine gun everybody? It might work!

    • The UN don’t get involved in fighting. As with the IPCC, the UN is often a boondoggle whose full time staff and politicians are there to create well paid jobs for themselves, their cronies, and in military terms for the troops, management and equipment suppliers, all easily corrupted activities in such an unaccountable pan national organisation, run by the elites of some of the most corrupt regimes in the world, all schooled in the art of corruption – from blatant African, through state gangsterism Russian style, to tastefully legalised western corruption.
      Not in the habit of getting between murderers and their intended victims. Check out Srebrenica, ask the peoples who have been massacred while supposedly being protected by the UN. UN runs these international rackets, like the IPCC. with your money. But don’t get get into serious combat very often.I’d call them a deterrent, if I thought they were even that effective.

  9. “The satellite uses low-frequency passive microwaves to measure the biomass of above ground vegetation.”
    One suspects that some statistics model uses the microwave returns to “estimate” plant matter.
    One also suspect that this approach is unable to differentiate what raising different crops would look like.
    The same suspicion wonders if drought caused some of the plant matter reduction; or if different crops with different harvest times cause false positives/negatives through their statistical manipulations.
    Rather than fancy color images, they need to directly correlate their findings to physical site plant matter verifications.
    I’d bet they have not thoroughly performed the latter approach.

  10. This will backfire like the last CO2 satellite that no one wants to talk about these days. I think the new one will give support to the greening finding and the steps toward Garden of Eden Earth^тм.

  11. This is the best news I have heard force long time. It will really help with improving climate scientist’s predictive modelling. The designers should get a Nobel prize.

  12. “whenever carbon is converted into carbon dioxide, CO2 emissions increase.”
    There’s a sharp mind at work!

  13. So how accurate is the information coming from the Satellites to start?
    Quote…..
    “Here we use a satellite dataset based on vegetation optical depth derived from low-frequency passive microwaves (L-VOD) to quantify annual aboveground biomass-carbon changes in sub-Saharan Africa between 2010 and 2016.”
    Vegetation optical depth eh?

  14. “Over the seven years, the researchers documented that drought and deforestation had a dramatic influence on carbon emissions, which has a negative effect on climate.”
    Wait, so areas with much rainfall and increasing forestation would also have the opposite dramatic influence on carbon emissions, but with a POSITIVE effect on climate?

  15. Why? Really. What possible difference will this information make, except to keep a lot of poitnless pseudo scientists studying a subject neither they nor their governments can do anything significantly positive about. It’s our taxes they are spending. Why don’t we use the apparently limited resources and brain power we have to develop useful technologies to solve real problems we know we have using proven or provable science, instead of look for those we don’t?

  16. That paper, at least from the abstract, makes no sense. On-orbit microwave sounders cannot measure atmospheric CO2. Infrared sounders can and do. Microwave sounders are generally used for H2O data and some emissivity, but only within microwave frequencies. Satellites generally use imagers and infrared sounders to examine plants. I note the abstract does not name the spacecraft so it is not possible to see what instruments or data products it provides. Plants can be healthy or unhealthy for many reasons; CO2 is only one of them. Besides, the abstract itself blames a drought, not CO2, for the situation in Africa.

  17. Volcanoes vent CO2 (and some methane) yet this is not widely acknowledged or mentioned in the press. Case in point: listen to the roar of gasses presently emanating from the Leilani fissures on the big island of Hawaii. Reporters and geologists speak of “gasses” yet only identify sulphur dioxide (the concentrations being in the ppm range near the vents). That roar is not caused by steam because there is very little visible steam (mostly from frying vegetation and shallow groundwater), so the gas must be carbon dioxide. And it’s not all that far from one of the World’s main carbon dioxide measuring station at Manoa Loa.

  18. The map showing just green and red for increase/decrease is pretty worthless. Just shows the sign of the change but not the magnitude. Could be 50%, 10%, 1% or 0.01%. Surely they must have some measurement resolution that would allow for quantification so we could tell if the changes are significant or trivial.

  19. “The new satellite can measure emissions from all types of vegetation ” I was under the impression that living plants absorb CO2 NOT emit it.

    • Living plants absorb CO2, but decaying plants emit it. The world’s carbon balances show CO2 molecules crossing the soil-plant/atmosphere boundary and ocean/atmosphere boundary in both directions.

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