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Japan Launches Greenhouse Gas-Monitoring Satellite

January 23, 2009

Japan launched its Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite (GOSAT) on Friday, in hopes of gathering unprecedented information on how the earth emits carbon dioxide and methane across the globe.

Japan successfully launched the satellite, known as Ibuki, meaning “vitality,” from a site in Tanegashima, a remote island about 600 miles (970 kilometers) southwest of Tokyo, using the H-2A rocket, according to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

“Global warming is one of the most pressing issues facing the international community, and Japan is fully committed to reducing CO2,” Yasushi Tadami, an official working on the project for Japan’s Environment Ministry, told the Associated Press. “The advantage of Ibuki is that it can monitor the density of CO2 and methane gas anywhere in the world.”

The $372.9 million satellite will orbit at an altitude of about 415 miles above 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, the agency said.

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

About 56,000 locations will be observed using the new satellite, compared to the current 282 land-based observation points, most of which are in heavily industrialized locations, said JAXA.

“Being able to measure what is happening is incredibly important to developing a robust international climate change response,” Yvo de Boer, head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat, told Reuters last week.

“You wouldn’t expect it in this modern day and age, but actually our ability to monitor greenhouse gas emissions is still relatively weak — weak in industrialized countries but even weaker in many developing countries.”

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.

“The satellite will be in orbit for five years and we hope that during that time, the data leads to more detailed climate policies,” said Tadami.

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