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Chinese satellite finds global net carbon has reached six gigatons

A Chinese satellite has created the first global carbon flux map. The satellite is called the Chinese Global Carbon Dioxide Monitoring Scientific Experimental Satellite (Tansat) and was designed to monitor carbon output around the globe. Tansat found that the global net carbon is six gigatons, which is approximately the mass of 12 times that of all living humans.

The global carbon flux map was developed using data on how carbon mixes with dry air collected from May 2017 to April 2018. The map was developed by applying Tansat’s satellite observations to models of how greenhouse gases are exchanged among the Earth’s atmosphere, land, water and living organisms. More than 100 gigatons of carbon are exchanged in this process. However, the increase in carbon emissions caused net carbon to be added to the atmosphere at a rate of six gigatons a year. According to Dongxu Yang, the first author and a researcher in the Institute of Atmospheric Physics at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, this is a serious issue contributing to climate change.

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Co-author Jing Wang, a researcher in IAP CAS, has admitted that satellite measures are less accurate than ground-based measurements. Satellite measurements, however, provide continuous global observation coverage. This additional information would not be available from limited or varied surface monitoring stations.

There are numerous satellites orbiting the globe, collecting similar data about carbon emissions on the Earth’s surface. These satellites include Japan’s GOSAT and US-based satellite OCO-2. The data from these satellites, and Tansat, will be used to independently verify national emission inventories across the globe. This program will begin in 2023 and will be overseen by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, in support of the Paris Agreement. Yang suggests that this will be helpful to understand carbon emissions in real-time and help ensure transparency across inventories.

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