Atmospheric Science

Remote Inversions

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Science  12 Jan 2001:
Vol. 291, Issue 5502, pp. 213
DOI: 10.1126/science.291.5502.213b

The consequences of global warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions have made it imperative to improve our understanding of the fate of CO2 emitted by burning of fossil fuels. One way in which both the sources and sinks of atmospheric CO2 can be determined is by inversion: analyses of the CO2 content of air collected regularly in flasks at a variety of locations around the world are used to calculate where the CO2 came from and where it went. The greatest uncertainty associated with this method arises from the incomplete global coverage provided by existing sampling stations.

One possible way to overcome this limitation would be to use satellite measurements of atmospheric CO2 concentrations, instead of station data. This would make possible much better spatial and temporal coverage and would minimize the effects of vertical transport in the troposphere. Rayner and O'Brien have calculated how precise space-based atmospheric CO2 concentration measurements would have to be for this technique to equal or surpass the performance of the existing surface network. Their estimates create a target for evaluating the feasibility of different satellite data retrieval schemes, a necessary first step in improving atmospheric inversions. — HJS

Geophys. Res. Lett.28, 175 (2001).

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