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Japan Set To Launch Greenhouse Gas-Monitoring Satellite

January 7, 2009

Japan is set to launch its Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite (GOSAT) this month in an effort to monitor the emissions of carbon dioxide and methane around the world.

Slated to launch using the H-2A rocket on January 21, GOSAT is also known as Ibuki, which is Japanese for “breath” because the satellite will track how the Earth exhales greenhouse gases in 56,000 locations around the world. It will orbit at an altitude of 666 kilometers above the Earth.

There were only 282 land-based observation points as of October, according to Takashi Hamazaki, of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

The agency said the $372.9 million satellite will orbit Earth once every three days with two sensors that will gauge the density of greenhouse gases based on observed infrared rays. The denser the gases, the more infrared rays of light are absorbed.

One sensor will be used to determine the presence of clouds. When clouds are present, it is difficult to provide an accurate analysis. Therefore, the satellite will only take readings in clear weather.

Data will be collected each month, with the first set of data expected by April or May. Researchers with the Japanese Environment Ministry and the Japanese National Institute for Environmental Studies will be the first to analyze the satellite’s data before sharing the information with scientists worldwide. GOSAT is set to be in orbit for five years.

Hamazaki said the project is important because certain regions, such as developing countries, are lacking proper monitoring of greenhouse gases.

“To fight climate change, we need to monitor the density of greenhouse gases in all regions around the world and how their levels change,” Hamazaki said. “But at the moment, there are very few observation sites on land and they are concentrated in certain areas.”

“By comparison, GOSAT will have 56,000 observation points and will be able to acquire data covering the entire globe every three days. We think this will improve the accuracy of global warming predictions.”

The project’s launch comes as Japan continues its attempts to meet its 2008-2012 Kyoto Protocol target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

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