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No longer just hot air: CO2 measurements from space

Recently, NASA released groundbreaking news that the OCO-2 and OCO-3 satellites can detect emissions originating specifically from the Bełchatów power plant in Poland. While the primary objective of these satellites was to study CO2 on global and continent level scales, the data was adapted to study emissions from large specific sources. The NASA team managed to achieve a commendable correlation value of 0.885 when compared to reported power generation, which represented the potential benefits and accuracy of space-based measurements.


Bełchatów power plant in Poland. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons


Despite these astronomical (pun intended) breakthroughs towards pinpointing sources and quantifying CO2 emissions from space, there remain a few hurdles before these satellite measurements can be optimised to track the gamut of nature-based solutions use cases at local scale.


  1. The resolution for OCO-3 snapshot mode is 1.6km x 2.2km which makes it difficult to imply causation to plots of strong emission sources smaller than 352 ha - miniscule areas would have greater background noise that affect the readings.

  2. The current focus for OCO-3 snapshot mode is on anthropogenic hotspots such as power plants and cities, and volcanoes, rather than areas with dense tropical vegetation.

  3. Lastly, the CO2 measurements are hindered by clouds, among other meteorological factors. The interminable cloud cover over tropics might limit the utility at pinpointing local sources of emissions at precise intervals


Until these impediments are overcome, a combination of different satellites and proxy estimates will be necessary to estimate CO2 emissions over annual cycles. For forested areas, Adatos.AI uses a combination of Land Use Land Cover (LULC) changes and biomass estimations to approximate emissions stemming from episodes of deforestation and forest fires.


Nonetheless, this groundbreaking study represents a profound development in the digital measurement, reporting and verification (DMRV) space, with a proven example to track emissions at a local scale. With next generation satellites that improve on the aforementioned limitations, remote sensing can take another quantum leap to aid in the fight against climate change.


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