Towards monitoring carbon emission reductions with satellites

In a mere decade, satellites have revolutionised our ability to monitor the global environment, its hazards, and abrupt changes. Now this quickly evolving field is preparing to support the goals of the Paris Agreement by an independent monitoring and verification system that uses satellite observations to quantify national greenhouse gas emission reductions.

The European Union’s Earth Observation programme Copernicus is planning a game-changing satellite constellation that will observe carbon dioxide, methane, and other atmospheric constituents that support the detection of anthropogenic emissions. This Anthropogenic CO2 Monitoring Mission (CO2M) will provide independent observations to the planned Monitoring and Verification Support (MVS) capacity for Global Stocktake of Paris Agreement.

Nevertheless, the path from observations of reflected sunlight to the number of carbon dioxide molecules in the total atmospheric column and further into national anthropogenic emission estimates is far from straightforward. The development of the individual pieces and their successful interplay is an enormous task and a significant responsibility for the international community. It is crucial to ensure the reliability of the data: to understand well the characteristics of the observational data and spatiotemporal sampling issues, correlated uncertainties, and limitations of the emission estimation methods. Combining and bridging different measurement and emission scales has never been as important.

At the Finnish Meteorological Institute, we contribute to a deeper understanding of the satellite-measured carbon cycle, advancing thus also the research and impact themes of ACCC. We develop methods for performing improved observations especially at high-latitude regions, and support the validation of the observations by versatile ground-based measurements. In addition, we advance the development of agile data-driven emission estimation and the use of inverse modelling for partitioning anthropogenic and natural carbon emissions.

This is the decade when invisible, unreported emissions are finally about to become visible and counted – culminating in their planned monitoring from space.

A schematic figure of the carbon observations by the Copernicus Anthropogenic CO2 Monitoring Mission (CO2M). Figure: OHB-System.