This artist's rendering shows NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO)-2, created on 31 December 2013. With atmospheric carbon dioxide now at its highest concentration in recorded history, the need to make precise, global, space-based measurements of this key greenhouse gas has never been more urgent. As carbon dioxide levels have increased, so too have uncertainties about them -- we don't yet have a clear picture of how these emissions are partitioned between Earth's ocean, land and atmosphere, or how Earth's forests, plants and ocean will respond to increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the future. OCO-2 addresses these critical questions to help us better assess the health of our warming planet. Graphic: NASA / JPL-Caltech

By Paul Voosen
9 May 2018

(Science) – You can't manage what you don't measure. The adage is especially relevant for climate-warming greenhouse gases, which are crucial to manage—and challenging to measure. In recent years, though, satellite and aircraft instruments have begun monitoring carbon dioxide and methane remotely, and NASA's Carbon Monitoring System (CMS), a $10-million-a-year research line, has helped stitch together observations of sources and sinks into high-resolution models of the planet's flows of carbon. Now, President Donald Trump's administration has quietly killed the CMS, Science has learned.

The move jeopardizes plans to verify the national emission cuts agreed to in the Paris climate accords, says Kelly Sims Gallagher, director of Tufts University's Center for International Environment and Resource Policy in Medford, Massachusetts. "If you cannot measure emissions reductions, you cannot be confident that countries are adhering to the agreement," she says. Canceling the CMS "is a grave mistake," she adds.

The White House has mounted a broad attack on climate science, repeatedly proposing cuts to NASA's earth science budget, including the CMS, and cancellations of climate missions such as the Orbiting Carbon Observatory 3 (OCO-3). Although Congress fended off the budget and mission cuts, a spending deal signed in March made no mention of the CMS. That allowed the administration's move to take effect, says Steve Cole, a NASA spokesperson in Washington, D.C. Cole says existing grants will be allowed to finish up, but no new research will be supported.

The agency declined to provide a reason for the cancellation beyond "budget constraints and higher priorities within the science budget." But the CMS is an obvious target for the Trump administration because of its association with climate treaties and its work to help foreign nations understand their emissions, says Phil Duffy, president of the Woods Hole Research Center in Falmouth, Massachusetts. And, unlike the satellites that provide the data, the research line had no private contractor to lobby for it. […]

The CMS improved other carbon monitoring as well. […] It has paid for researchers led by Daniel Jacob, an atmospheric chemist at Harvard University, to refine their satellite-based observations of methane.

It's an ironic time to kill the program, Jacob says. NASA is planning several space-based carbon observatories, including the OCO-3, which is set to be mounted on the International Space Station later this year, and the Geostationary Carbon Cycle Observatory, due for launch early next decade. The CMS would help knit all these observations together. "It would be a total shame to wind [it] down," Jacob says.

This type of research is likely to continue, Duffy adds, but leadership will pass to Europe, which already operates one carbon-monitoring satellite, with more on the way. "We really shoot ourselves in the foot if we let other people develop the technology," he says, given how important the techniques will be in managing low-carbon economies in the future. Hurtt, meanwhile, holds out hope that NASA will restore the program. After all, he says, the problem isn't going away. "The topic of climate mitigation and carbon monitoring is maybe not the highest priority now in the United States," he says. "But it is almost everywhere else." [more]

Trump White House quietly cancels NASA research verifying greenhouse gas cuts


  1. Dennis Mitchell said...



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