Experts To Track Big City Carbon Footprints
May 13, 2013

Climate Experts Working To Track Emission Levels Of World’s Largest Cities

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Scientists from across the globe are joining forces to track the carbon footprints of some of the world´s largest cities, hoping to determine whether or not emissions standards in various regions are being met.

According to Associated Press (AP) reporter Alicia Chang, the efforts are being focused on cities like Paris and Los Angeles, which are home to more than 10 million residents.

In recent years, she said, these metropolises have become more and more responsible for man-made global warming. Now, scientists are attempting to conduct their own independent verification process to ensure that goals to reduce the atmospheric greenhouse gas amounts are actually being met.

“Every time Los Angeles exhales, odd-looking gadgets anchored in the mountains above the city trace the invisible puffs of carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases that waft skyward,” Chang explained.

“Halfway around the globe, similar contraptions atop the Eiffel Tower and elsewhere around Paris keep a pulse on emissions from smokestacks and automobile tailpipes,” she added. “And there is talk of outfitting Sao Paulo, Brazil, with sensors that sniff the byproducts of burning fossil fuels.”

Their efforts are timely, as this weekend the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) revealed that atmospheric CO2 levels had surpassed 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time in recorded human history. The last time carbon dioxide levels had reached such levels was millions of years ago during the Pleistocene Era, and according to NOAA, the rate of CO2 increase has accelerated from approximately 0.7 ppm per year in the late 1950s to 2.1 ppm per year over the last decade.

Sir Brian Hoskins, the head of climate change at the UK-based Royal Society, told BBC News he hoped that the dubious milestone would “jolt governments into action” and increase efforts to battle global warming.

Likewise, Prof Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), told The Guardian that he hoped the news would “bring about awareness of the scientific reality of climate change and how human society should deal with the challenge.”

While the project actually predates the milestone, it could also address some of the concerns that it has raised amongst experts like Hoskins and Pachauri. In fact, according to Chang, a high-tech sensor on Mount Wilson has been observing the Los Angeles basin for more than a year. It scans over two dozen points in the region, measuring sunlight reflecting off the surface for evidence of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases.

“There are some days where we can see 150 miles way out to the Channel Islands and there are some days where we have trouble even seeing what's down here in the foreground,” Stanley Sander, a senior research scientist with NASA´s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) involved with the monitoring station, told the AP.

Sander and his colleagues reportedly plan to expand the network over the next few months, by installing commercial gas analyzers at several new locations throughout Los Angeles. Their goal is to determine whether or not the city is on track to meet its goal of cutting emissions to 35 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, though project manager Riley Duren told Chang it would take several years of monitoring to know for certain.

Similar efforts were launched elsewhere, including in Paris, but according to Chang launching the project “came with the usual growing pains.” For example, a carbon-sensing device originally placed in the observation deck of the Eiffel Tower had to be moved to a new location — one that is off-limits to tourists — after it was discovered that those visitors to the French landmark were interfering with the results by exhaling.

“So far, $3 million have been spent on the U.S. effort with funding from federal, state and private groups. The French, backed by different sponsors, have spent roughly the same,” the AP explained. “Scientists hope to strengthen their ground measurements with upcoming launches of Earth satellites designed to track carbon dioxide from orbit.”

“The field experiment does not yet extend to China, by far the world's biggest carbon dioxide polluter. But it's a start, experts say,” the wire service added. “With the focus on megacities, others have worked to decipher the carbon footprint of smaller places like Indianapolis, Boston and Oakland, where University of California, Berkeley researchers have taken a different tack and blanketed school rooftops with relatively inexpensive sensors.”