/ 7 January 2009

Japan to monitor greenhouse gases from space

Japan’s space agency will launch a satellite later this month to monitor greenhouse gases around the world, officials said on Wednesday, hoping the data it collects helps global efforts to combat climate change.

The Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite (Gosat), to be launched on January 21, will enable scientists to calculate the density of carbon dioxide and methane from 56 000 locations on the Earth’s surface, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (Jaxa) said.

The coverage compares with just 282 land-based observation sites as of last October, said Takashi Hamazaki, manager of the 35-billion yen ($372,9-million) Jaxa project.

”To fight climate change, we need to monitor the density of greenhouse gases in all regions around the world and how their levels change,” he told a news conference.

”But at the moment, there are very few observation sites on land and they are concentrated in certain areas.”

For example, sites monitoring greenhouse gases were lacking in developing countries, he said. Gosat, nicknamed ”Ibuki” after the Japanese word for ”vitality”, will cover those countries and also the atmosphere over seas.

Equipped with two sensors, Gosat will track infrared rays from the Earth, which will help calculate the densities of the two greenhouse gases, because they absorb the rays at certain wavelengths.

The satellite will also pick up any sign of clouds, enabling it to process data only when the sky is clear.

Gosat, set to be in orbit for five years, will collect data once a month, with preliminary data from the satellite expected to be ready for researchers in April or May.

The satellite’s launch comes as Japan comes under pressure to meet its 2008-2012 Kyoto Protocol target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions and tries to be more vocal in global talks on fighting climate change.

United Nations talks on climate change are aiming to work out a new treaty by mid-December on cutting emissions, but rich and poor nations have been deeply divided on how new goals should be set.

An Environment Ministry official said he hoped Gosat’s data would be reflected in a report by a UN panel of scientists due out in 2014, which was likely to influence future climate talks.

”Whether the data can contribute to talks for a post-Kyoto deal is open to debate,” Toru Hashimoto, an Environment Ministry official, told the news conference.

”But we hope the Gosat data is included the next report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, given that it will be a basis for global climate talks.”

Nasa is sponsoring its own Orbiting Carbon Observatory to be launched this year which is set to collect measurements on carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere. – Reuters