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Environment: Study shows space-based sensors can accurately measure greenhouse gases and other air pollution

The Four Corners Power Plant in a 1972 photo via Wikipedia.

The Four Corners Power Plant in a 1972 photo via Wikipedia.

Satellite data verified by in-stack measurements

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Keeping tabs colorless, odorless carbon dioxide emissions is not always easy, yet it will be crucial someday for being able to measure whether countries are meeting targets for emissions reductions.

Scientists with Los Alamos National Laboratory now say they’ve been able to measure air pollution and greenhouse gases from the two coal-fired power plants in the Four Corners — the largest single point source of pollution in the U.S.

According to a press release from Los Alamos National Laboratory, this marks the study to show that space-based techniques can successfully verify international regulations on fossil energy emissions. Furthermore, the study was able to distinguish that emissions from the nearby San Juan Generating Station are actually less polluting than those from the nearby Four Corners Generating Station.

“A critical barrier to any future international treaty aimed towards controlling greenhouse and pollutant gas emissions is our inability to verify inventories and reduction of emissions claimed by individual nations following implementation of new technologies,” said LANL researcher Manvendra Dubey.

He stressed that “in-stack monitoring of power-plant emissions is mandatory in the United States, and they are reported to the EPA to comply with the US Clean Air Act, allowing us to test how well our verification method worked.”

To verify emissions from the San Juan and Four Corners coal-fired power plants, the Los Alamos team deployed ground-based solar spectrometers and point sensors to measure atmospheric concentrations of gases at a site close to these power plants. Now that we have demonstrated the scientific feasibility of verification, we can use this to ensure that energy technology upgrades emissions reported by China and India are accurate, Dubey said.

“Using satellite-based remote-sensing equipment can allow scientists, and therefore policymakers, to determine with accuracy whether carbon dioxide (CO2), carbon monoxide, and nitrogen oxides detected in the vicinity are truly from the plant, or from other sources,” said Rodica Lindenmaier, postdoctoral research associate and first author of the paper.

The team concludes in the paper that the “high frequency and precision ground-based remote sensing results provide the performance metric and sampling strategy for satellite-based measurements, permitting a global emission monitoring system.”

The authors also monitored the isotopic 13C composition of CO2, which serves as a fingerprint of emissions from coal-fired power plants and matched it to that of the local coal. The author’s remote observations also show that 75 percent of the atmosphere (~10 km) in the region containing these two power plants is polluted. The research was supported by Los Alamos’ Laboratory Directed Research and Development funding program.

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