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ESA tests laser to measure atmospheric carbon dioxide

A recent ESA campaign has demonstrated how a technique using lasers could be employed to measure carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The campaign supports one of the main objectives of the candidate Earth Explorer A-SCOPE mission.

A-SCOPE (Advanced Space Carbon and climate Observation of Planet Earth) is one of the six candidate Earth Explorer missions that has just completed assessment study. The mission concept, along with the other five, will be presented to the science community at a User Consultation Meeting in January 2009. Up to three missions will subsequently be selected for the next step of the implementation cycle (feasibility study), leading to the selection of ESA's seventh Earth Explorer mission envisaged to launch in the 2016 timeframe.

Atmospheric carbon dioxide is the most prominent greenhouse gas in the Earth's atmosphere. With concentrations having increased by more than 30% since pre-industrial times, carbon dioxide is the main reason for the rise in mean global temperature over the same period. While there is little doubt that the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide is due to the burning of fossil fuels and land-use change, it is currently thought that less than half of the total emissions due to human activity has remained in the atmosphere the rest being soaked up by the ocean and the land.

Clearly, understanding more about the movement of carbon between the atmosphere, land and ocean and whether these 'compartments' act as sources or sinks of carbon will help improve estimates of how the global carbon cycle, and ultimately the Earth, will change in the coming decades and centuries.

Taking measurements of atmospheric carbon dioxide from space is a challenge. The accuracy required to unambiguously characterise the sources and sinks of carbon dioxide is so high that limited measuring techniques would be of use. In this context, a laser-based system would be a very promising approach.

The A

Contact: Robert Meisner
European Space Agency

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