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Scientists Want Better Accountability For Emission Levels

April 18, 2011

Scientists said Monday that a better monitoring network for greenhouse gases is needed to warn of significant changes and to help countries keep their emission levels honest.

“What we’re hoping to do is see if the warming is feeding the warming, particularly in the Arctic,” said Euan Nisbet, a specialist in methane emissions at the University of London.

“Our monitoring network is very, very limited. We feel more observation is needed.”

Scientists said in published papers that such a measurement could warn of possible climate tipping points.

The data could also be used to help verify countries’ reporting of greenhouse gas emissions against targets under the present Kyoto Protocol and a possible successor after 2012.

The Earth’s climate in the east has changed in a relatively short period of time.

Scientists are not sure why that happened, and warned of possible climate tipping points from emissions.

They are concerned that as Arctic permafrost melts, it would allow plant matter to rot and vent methane, a greenhouse gas that triggers more warming.

Nisbet said the earth came out of a glacial period “in a matter of a decade or so,” referring to rapid warming followed by a more prolonged ice melt, and warned of serious consequences if that were to be repeated now.

“In 2007 the Arctic methane emissions appeared to increase very sharply, and then stabilized a bit later. The question is what were the causes of that,” Nisbet said.

An extra benefit would be an independent test of national reporting of greenhouse gas emissions.  Nearly 40 industrialized countries report under the Kyoto Protocol that their emissions against targets from 2008 through 2012.

One issue up for debate is how far international inspectors might oversee emissions reporting.  A network of stations may provide a technical answer.

“We’re trying to verify the greenhouse gas emissions that are declared by the various countries,” Nisbet said.

“The measurement of emissions has huge errors.”

One way to check national reporting is to count all the sources of greenhouse gas emissions.

Another is to use an improved network of climate stations to measure greenhouse gases in the air and use winds to help calculate where they come from.

Nisbet’s power was one of over 15 published in a special issue of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society on Monday.

A replacement satellite is planned for 2013 after the previous “orbiting carbon observatory” crashed on launch in 2009.

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