NASA Space Missions Pinpoint Sources of CO2 Emissions on Earth

Emissions from large facilities such as power plants and refineries account for about half of global carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels. Bełchatów Power Station, in operation since 1988, is the largest lignite-fired power plant in the world, with a reported capacity of 5,102 megawatts. Lignite (brown coal) typically leads to higher emissions per megawatt generated than anthracite (hard coal). The Polish government has drafted plans to close the plant by the end of 2036.

Ray Nassar, a senior researcher at Environment and Climate Change Canada and the study’s lead author, noted that most carbon dioxide emissions reports are created from estimates or data collected at the land surface. Researchers account for the mass of fossil fuels purchased and used, then calculate the expected emissions; they generally do not make actual atmospheric carbon dioxide measurements.

“The finer details about exactly when and where emissions occur are often not available,” Nassar said. “Providing a more detailed picture of carbon dioxide emissions could help to track the effectiveness of policies to reduce emissions. Our approach with OCO-2 and OCO-3 can be applied to more power plants or modified for carbon dioxide emissions from cities or countries.”

Because of the mapping mode observations of OCO-3, NASA data could be used more extensively in quantifying CO2 point-source emissions in the future. NASA recently announced that mission operations will be extended for several more years aboard the space station, and the instrument will operate alongside another greenhouse gas observer aboard the space station, the Earth Surface Mineral Dust Source Investigation (EMIT).

“It is really exciting to think that we will get another five to six years of operations with OCO-3,” Chatterjee said. “We are seeing that making measurements at the right time and at the right scale is critical.”

He added that OCO-3 can serve as a “pathfinder” for next-generation satellite missions. The OCO-2 and OCO-3 projects are managed by JPL. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

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