Study maps 15 years of carbon dioxide emissions on Earth

This image shows global fossil fuel carbon dioxide emissions as represented by the Fossil Fuel Data Assimilation System. Credit: Gurney lab

This image shows global fossil fuel carbon dioxide emissions as represented by the Fossil Fuel Data Assimilation System.
Credit: Gurney lab

World leaders face multiple barriers in their efforts to reach agreement on greenhouse gas emission policies. And, according to Arizona State University researchers, without globally consistent, independent emissions assessments, climate agreements will remain burdened by errors, self-reporting and the inability to verify emissions progress.

Now, an international research team led by ASU scientists has developed a new approach to estimate CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels – one that provides crucial information to policymakers. Called the “Fossil Fuel Data Assimilation System,” or FFDAS, this new system was used to quantify 15 years of CO2 emissions, every hour, for the entire planet – down to the city scale. Until now, scientists have estimated greenhouse gas emissions at coarser scales or used less reliable techniques.

Researchers unveiled the new system in an article published Sept. 10 in the Journal of Geophysical Research.

The FFDAS uses information from satellite feeds, national fuel accounts and a new global database on power plants to create high-resolution planetary maps. These maps provide a scientific, independent assessment of the planet’s greenhouse gas emissions – something policymakers can use and the public can understand.

“With this system, we are taking a big step toward creating a global monitoring system for greenhouse gases, something that is needed as the world considers how best to meet greenhouse gas reductions,” said Kevin Robert Gurney, lead investigator and associate professor in ASU’s School of Life Sciences. “Now we can provide all countries with detailed information about their CO2 emissions and show that independent, scientific monitoring of greenhouse gases is possible.”

The research team combined information from space-based “nighttime lights,” a new population database, national statistics on fuel use, and a global database on power plants to create a CO2 emissions map broken down by hour, year and region.

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