ClimatePULSE: Around the World in 100 minutes – Japan’s GHG Satellite

What’s the atmospheric density of carbon dioxide 200 miles off the East coast of Greenland? At this point we can’t accurately say, but that may soon change. The Greenhouse Gas Observing Satellite (GOSAT), expected to be launched one week from today by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, is planned to orbit the Earth for approximately 5 years while sending monthly reports of carbon dioxide and methane densities from around the globe. The satellite represents a major step towards gathering accurate GHG data in the atmosphere, which can aid the development of carbon-trading by improving accountability.

The GOSAT will monumentally increase GHG data monitoring, increasing the number of global observation points from 282 to 56,000. The 282 existing observation points are stationary and primarily concentrated in populated areas. By moving from ground-level to space (and flying around the Earth in about 100 minutes), the orbiting GOSAT will be capable of creating observation points spanning the globe and covering both land and sea. Information will be provided by the GOSAT every three days and distributed free to scientists to help them address many unanswered questions about climate change, including how CO2 densities change over time at various locations around the planet.
As the satellite soars through the atmosphere, two of its onboard instruments will measure CO¬2 and CH4 densities based on the absorption of infrared rays. This method will provide accurate readings as each gas absorbs the rays at a very specific wavelength. To increase the accuracy of the data, the satellite is also equipped with a sensor to detect cloud cover so that data is only recorded during clear weather. Initial data from the GOSAT, which will be analyzed internally and then distributed worldwide, is expected to be available approximately 3-6 months after the launch.
A goal of the project is to create what the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is calling “commonly shared criteria” for measuring greenhouse gases. The acquired data from the GOSAT will be available for use by many organizations and countries providing a common dataset to work with. This may be essential to developing carbon-trading programs as it will facilitate trading between different nations, while increasing accountability and accuracy. Similarly, the acquired data may influence future climate change policy; specifically the successor of the Kyoto Protocol which expires in 2012. With a better understanding of GHG levels across all regions of the globe, as well as improved insight into predicting future GHG changes, policy makers will be better equipped to implement appropriate actions.
NASA has plans to put a similar system into orbit later this year, the Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO), which will further aid scientists in understanding the carbon cycle. The Greenhouse Gas Observing Satellite will provide scientists with crucial data which was not previously available. Information from technologies like this will continue to educate scientists, policy makers, and the general public. While the greenhouse gas emissions produced from the development, launch, and operation of the satellite could potentially be calculated, they will be insignificant as the information provided by the GOSAT will be indispensible.
About ClimateCHECK
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