Last week NASA released the first global carbon dioxide map that’s ever been produced. The measurements were taken by the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder, AIRS,that is administered by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory as part of the NASA Earth Observing System. AIRS is one of six sensors on the Aqua satellite that also includes the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) and Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System (CERES).
AIRS creates three-dimensional maps of air and surface temperature, water vapor and cloud properties using infrared technology. The instrument uses 2,378 spectral channels for a resolution that’s 100 times better than previous instruments. The satellite accurately maps trace greenhouse gases such as ozone, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and methane.
The mapping effort shows carbon dioxide transport across the atmosphere, with greater concentrations over the Mediterranean from North American and European sources, and concentrations in the Middle East from South Asian sources.
Mapping the atmosphere will become even more enhances with NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory, planned for launch in January 2009. This next instrument will penetrate further into the lower atmosphere.
It’s conceivable to think of greater global policy and mandates on carbon emissions with these enhanced monitoring instruments in place. The ability to prove that local climate patterns were adversely affected by emissions from a specific country or region over a specific period of time will play largely in the economic and political pressure that can be brought to bare to affect change.