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December 23, 2016

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China’s new eye on climate change

CHINA launched a carbon dioxide monitoring satellite yesterday, making it the third country after Japan and the United States to monitor greenhouse gases with its own satellite.

It was carried on a Long March-2D rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the northwestern Gobi Desert.

TanSat was sent into a sun-synchronous orbit about 700 kilometers above the Earth and will monitor the concentration, distribution and flow of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, said Yin Zengshan, its chief designer at the Chinese Academy of Sciences micro-satellite research institute.

It will help understanding of climate change and provide China’s policy-makers with independent data, Yin said.

In a three-year mission, it will examine global levels every 16 days, accurate to at least 4ppm (parts per million).

Concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere have increased from 280ppm to 400ppm over the past 150 years, leading to an increase in average global temperatures of about 0.7 degrees Celsius over the past century, according to Lu Naimeng, the TanSat project’s chief scientist.

On November 4, the Paris Agreement on climate change came into force, with more than 100 countries committed to reducing carbon emissions. TanSat will be able to trace greenhouse gas sources and help evaluate whether countries are fulfilling their commitments.

It means a louder voice for China on climate change, carbon reduction and in negotiations on carbon trading.

Research on CO2 will also improve understanding of the carbon cycle and generate more reliable predictions of climate change.

By 2030, China aims to cut CO2 emissions per unit of GDP by 60 percent compared with 2005 levels. A national carbon trading market will open next year.

Many countries are reducing emissions, but calculating how much they are actually doing is difficult. Ground-based monitoring cannot collect accurate data on a global scale, so satellites offer the best means of measuring CO2. Japan and the US have their own monitoring satellites, but two are far from enough to assess the whole world.

“Since only the United States and Japan have carbon-monitoring satellites, it is hard for us to see first-hand data,” said Zhang Peng, TanSat system commander and vice director at the National Satellite Meteorological Center. “Before, all our data came from ground stations. That kind of data is both local and limited and does not cover the oceans,” he said.

“The satellite has worldwide scope and will improve data collection. Observing atmospheric CO2 by satellite demands cutting-edge technology, so TanSat is a major technological achievement for China.”

Li Jiahong, chief engineer of the National Remote Sensing Center, said: “We hope TanSat will work with carbon-monitoring satellites of other countries and provide ample data for studying climate change.”

Researchers took almost six years to develop TanSat and its high-resolution CO2 detector.

“TanSat has very good ‘vision,’ and can distinguish changes in atmospheric CO2 as small as 1 percent,” said Yin.

The satellite has different modes for observing oceans and land and can constantly adjust its orientation and position, he said. To ensure accuracy, six ground-based observation stations will calibrate and examine its data.

Lin Chao, who was involved in developing the satellite’s detector, said: “We can now collect carbon data from all over the world, all year round, and record the carbon contributed by both developed countries and developing countries.

“As for China, we can have detailed analysis on emissions in different regions, provinces and cities, thanks to the satellite.”


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