New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) has contributed to the first ever stocktake of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Measurements from NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) mission were used to estimate atmospheric CO2 concentrations from 2015 to 2020, in addition to surface-based observations such as those from NIWA and 60 other researchers from around the world.
Dave Pollard, principal investigator for the Total Column Carbon Observing Network (TCCON) station operated by NIWA at Lauder, said, “We’ve been given a unique view of how much carbon dioxide each country emits and removes from the atmosphere. Factors that influence CO2 concentrations include natural processes like ocean absorption, and human-induced processes such as the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation. These all vary widely between nations due to their size, terrain, location, socioeconomic status and population.”
For the global stocktake, NIWA provided remote sensing and ground-based measurements from its Baring Head clean air station near Wellington, home to the longest running continuous CO2 measurements in the Southern Hemisphere. NIWA discovered that the data from this station differed from the estimates provided by the satellites.
Dr Sara Mikaloff-Fletcher, NIWA’s principal scientist for carbon chemistry and modeling, said, “Where there is cloud or complex topography present – features across much of Aotearoa’s landscape – satellites have trouble measuring CO2. Their estimates are not in line with what we know on the ground; satellite data alone suggests that New Zealand’s land vegetation is emitting carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, whereas our own data shows New Zealand’s terrestrial biosphere absorbs carbon dioxide and offsets a substantial portion of our emissions.
“This is why it’s crucial that NZ and other countries have their own ground-based observations and that these have been included in this stocktake – because they give a fuller picture. It’s likely there will be more global emission estimates done like this in the future, which will highlight gaps between the emissions countries are reporting and what is being observed in the atmosphere,” she said.
NIWA’s ground-based observations come from CarbonWatch NZ – a project that uses air monitoring stations around New Zealand to combine measurements of greenhouse gases with high resolution weather models. This gives a more accurate picture of overall CO2 concentrations, as information from the land’s surface complements what satellites see from above.
Dr Mikaloff-Fletcher added, “This comes at the perfect time, as the 2015 Paris Agreement’s first Global Stocktake – an assessment of the world’s progress toward slowing global warming – is taking place this year. These results will contribute to that international effort.”