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UCSD Climate Change Scientists Pioneering New Tracking Tool


UC San Diego and a private company have launched what's being called the world's first and largest privately funded network to track greenhouse gases.

UC San Diego and a private company have launched what's being called the world's first and largest privately funded network to track greenhouse gases.

Currently, scientists rely on a few dozen sampling stations to continuously monitor greenhouse gases around the globe.

But now, UCSD's Scripps Institution of Oceanography is teaming with a private-sector company, Earth Networks, to build the world's most comprehensive network for tracking carbon around the globe.

Earth Networks, known for its weather observation products, is investing $25 million in new technology to establish the system in partnership with Scripps.

Scripps Institution of Oceanography Director Tony Haymet said UCSD scientists will help design the system, while Earth Networks funds a new research center for climate science at the school.

"We're going to be able to have access to a network well in advance that we would have had if we were trying to collect the data from government grants," said Haymet. "Earth Networks is going to invest $25 million to set up and operate the network over the next five years. You know it might have taken my colleagues and myself 10 years to raise that kind of money to have a purely scientifically-funded network."

Haymet said the network will help Scripps researchers collect data to hone in on where greenhouse gases originate and how they move from one area to another.

Scripps scientist Ralph Keeling, whose father created the Keeling Curve for tracking carbon dioxide emissions as a UCSD researcher, said the network is a significant step.

"There is a process that's been going on for the last decade of more and more scientists getting involved in this and more and more measurements being made," Keeling said. "But it's incremental. And what's happening today will be transformative - allowing us to make many more measurements on a shorter time frame."

Keeling said much of the data now collected by scientists is limited to longer-term studies from remote locations.

"And those background clean air measurements at these remote sites are still the core of our understanding to what's happening to the planet as a whole," said Keeling. "And we have to make sure that they keep going. And that's not easy and that's also a challenge."

But Keeling said the new network will more accurately quantify and map greenhouse gas emissions where people live.

"One of the challenges with getting people to be aware of emitting greenhouse gases is that you can't see them, you can't smell them," Keeling said. "They're out there, but how do you believe that they're there or do anything? And this is going to make them more visible to people by providing visualization. Not in your front yard but on the web of your whole region."

The devices gathering the data are designed by Sunnyvale, California-based Picarro Instruments.

Picarro CEO Michael Woelk said the greenhouse gas emission analyzers use a technique to make precise measurements of carbon dioxide and methane - the two most significant greenhouse gases.

"We pick one spectral feature that is unique to CO2 and that's what we measure," Picarro said. "So it's incredibly sophisticated, incredibly simple device to use. We actually sample the air and then we convert that into something that we can see."

Looking ahead, Scripps Institution of Oceanography scientists plan to use the new center for climate research as another tool as they build on their pioneering work in climate science.

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