Nowadays, satellites play an important role in monitoring carbon levels in the oceans. However, understanding their full potential has only just begun.
The ability to forecast future climate relies on the potential to track where carbon emissions go. Therefore, there is a need to measure the quantity of carbon emissions that remains in the atmosphere, or gets stored in the oceans or on land. Specifically, the oceans have helped decelerate climate change as they absorb and then store the carbon for thousands of years.
Published in September 2019, the IPCC Special Report on the Oceans and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate identified the crucial role played by the oceans in regulating climate, together with the need to increase understanding and tracking of ocean health.
However, the massive nature of the oceans, encompassing more than 70% of the Earth’s surface, shows why satellites are a crucial component of any monitoring.
According to the new research, spearheaded by the University of Exeter, increased use of current satellites will allow the “critical knowledge gaps” to be filled for tracking climate.
The research reports that satellites initially launched to examine the wind also have the capability to perceive how foam, waves, rain, wind, and temperature all unite to regulate the movement of carbon dioxide and heat between the atmosphere and the ocean.
Furthermore, satellites launched to track gas emissions over the land are also capable of measuring carbon dioxide emissions as they scatter over the ocean.
Future satellite operations provide even better potential for acquiring new knowledge, which includes the ability to examine the internal circulation of the oceans. Emerging constellations of commercial satellites, built to track the weather and life on land, are also capable of assisting ocean health monitoring.
Monitoring carbon uptake by the oceans is now critical to understand our climate and for ensuring the future health of the animals that live there. By monitoring the oceans we can gather the necessary information to help protect ecosystems at risk and motivate societal shifts towards cutting carbon emissions.
Dr Jamie Shutler, Study Lead Author, Centre for Geography and Environmental Science, University of Exeter (Penryn Campus)
The study team included many European universities and research institutes, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the European Space Agency, and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.
The scientists recommend the use of a “robust network” that can regularly monitor the oceans.
This network would have to integrate data from a number of different satellites with information from autonomous vehicles, automated instruments on ships, and floats that can regularly measure surface water carbon dioxide.
Moreover, the latest progress in computing, such as Google Earth Engine, which offers free access and computing for scientific examination of satellite datasets, could also be employed.
The research proposes a global charter that makes satellite information freely available during major disasters should be extended to incorporate the “long-term man-made climate disaster,” thereby permitting commercial satellite operators to contribute easily.
The study was initiated by Dr Shutler from the University of Exeter and Dr Craig Donlon from the European Space Agency, and supported by the International Space Science Institute ISSI Bern, Switzerland.
The paper titled “Satellites will address critical science priorities for quantifying ocean carbon” has been published recently in Frontiers in Ecology and Environment.