The Japanese government has launched the first satellite to monitor greenhouse gases worldwide. This tool will help scientists better ascertain where global warming emissions are coming from and how much is being absorbed by the oceans and forests. The U.S. will launch a similar orbiter next month. The Japanese satellite represents a big step in getting such data on carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere, which is now compiled from scattered ground stations.
There are normally 100 observations every two weeks, but with the satellite, there be about one million. This enormous leap is an integral part of understanding greenhouse emissions and to see which countries are emitting more than others. Global warming is one of the most dire issues facing the international community, and Japan’s actions show that it is fully committed to reducing CO2.
The satellite, named “Ibuki,” which means “breath,” was sent into orbit along with seven other piggyback probes on a Japanese H2A rocket. JAXA, Japan’s space agency, said the launch was a success, and officials said they were monitoring the satellites to ensure they entered orbit properly. Ibuki a will circle the globe every 100 minutes an is equipped with optical sensors that measure reflected light from the Earth to determine the density of the two gases.
Carbon dioxide is the biggest contributor to global warming. It is emitted by the burning of fossil fuels by power plants, motor vehicles and other sources. Methane has a variety of sources, including livestock manure and rice cultivation.
International science agencies have reported that carbon dioxide emissions have risen three percent worldwide from 2006 to 2007. A United Nations scientific panel has warned that if emissions are not reined in, average global temperatures will increase by four to 11 degrees Fahrenheit (2.4 to 6.3 degrees Celsius) by the year 2100, causing damaging disruptions to the climate.
Scientists currently depend on 282 land-based stations and scattered instrumented aircraft flights to monitor carbon dioxide at low altitudes. Ibuki, orbiting at an altitude of about 415 miles, will be able to check gas levels in entire columns of atmosphere at 56,000 locations.
The upcoming NASA satellite, the Orbiting Carbon Observatory, will have more precise measurements because it will check only one gas, carbon dioxide. Its smaller observational target area will mean less chance of clouds contaminating sample results.
Photo Credit: AP/Kyodo News