Who is Monitoring Greenhouse Gases in the atmosphere? Top scientific minds or cash strapped well intended individuals

Here is something that will leave you thinking.  Who and what measures and monitors the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere?

The Orbiting Carbon Observation (OCO) satellite developed by NASA/JPL was supposed to do this, but it crashed after launch on Feb 24, 2009.

Scientists to NASA: We Need A Reliable Way to Track Global Emissions - 07.31.2009

By Keith Johnson

Forget all the haggling with China, India, and parts of the U.S. Congress—the real obstacle to a global climate-change treaty might be accurately measuring greenhouse-gas emissions in the first place.

That’s the warning from the National Academy of Science’s National Research Council to the head of NASA. The upshot? Without a sophisticated satellite that can track global emissions, it will be hard to know what everybody is really up to: “[C]urrent methods for estimating greenhouse gas emissions have limitations for monitoring a climate treaty.”

NASA had such a sophisticated satellite—the Orbiting Carbon Observatory—which failed to reach orbit in February. The space agency is considering trying again—thus the letter from the NAS pointing out just how useful such satellites can be.

The monitoring in OCO was simple.

The satellite carried a single instrument that would have taken the most precise measurements of atmospheric carbon dioxide ever made from space. The instrument consisted of three parallel, high-resolution spectrometers, integrated into a common structure and fed by a common telescope. The spectrometers would have made simultaneous measurements of the carbon dioxide and molecular oxygen absorption of sunlight reflected off the same location on Earth’s surface when viewed in the near-infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum, invisible to the human eye.

Here is a video that gives you background on the OCO satellite

The Economist discusses the issue of monitoring greenhouse gases in length.

Monitoring greenhouse gases

Highs and lows

You might think that measuring the levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere would be a priority. If you did think that, though, you would be wrong

Mar 4th 2010 | From The Economist print edition

IN NEGOTIATIONS on nuclear weapons the preferred stance is “Trust but verify”. In negotiations on climate change there seems little opportunity for either. Trust, as anyone who attended last year’s summit in Copenhagen can attest, is in the shortest of supplies. So, too, is verification.

Barack Obama was asked when he was in Copenhagen whether a provision by which countries could peek into each others’ assessment processes was strong enough to be sure there was no cheating. He answered reassuringly that “we can actually monitor a lot of what takes place through satellite imagery”. That statement conjured up thoughts of the sort of cold-war satellite system that America used to identify and count Russian missiles. But the president was being a bit previous; at the moment, no such system exists, because America’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO), a satellite that would have fulfilled the role, was lost on launch this time last year. The purpose of OCO was to work out the fate of carbon dioxide that is emitted by industrial processes but does not then stay in the atmosphere—about 60% of the total.

The Economist author points out the problem with the system.

America is planning to build a new OCO. In the meantime, however, a small group of scientists labours away on Earth, doing its best to monitor emissions at ground level. At the end of February a number of these researchers met at the Royal Society in London, to discuss what they were up to.

Measuring gas levels day in, day out can look a little humdrum to outsiders, including those who hold the purse strings. They tend to prefer scientists to experiment and test hypotheses, not just tally things. But that attitude galls the greenhouse-gas measurers, and not only because it denies them money. It also ignores the fact that careful measurement is a way of discovering new things, not just of checking the status quo. Monitoring is not just a necessary handmaiden of science—it is the real thing.

And, what people do in the short term.

Indeed, for all the noise that is made about climate change, much of this research is done with next to no money. Asked how she paid for her monitoring of various greenhouse gases in Baden Württemberg, Ingeborg Levin of Heidelberg University replied “by stealing”—meaning not that she robs banks, but that the monitoring work is cross-subsidised by grants intended for other studies.

How broken is the discussion on GHG that there is no world-wide GHG monitoring system?

Let's hope the NASA budget gets approved for OCO 2.

Proposed reflight

Three days after the failed February 2009 launch, the OCO science team sent NASA headquarters a proposal to build and launch an OCO "carbon copy", which planned to have the replacement satellite launched by late 2011.[16] On February 1st, 2010, the FY 2010 NASA budget request did include US$170 million for NASA to develop and fly a replacement for the Orbiting Carbon Observatory.[17]