CarbonTracker is a system administered by National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that calculates carbon dioxide uptake and release at the Earth's surface over time. It estimates the carbon dioxide exchange from an 'atmospheric point of view'. Since CO2 mole fractions in the atmosphere reflect the sum of all the CO2 exchange at the surface, they form the ultimate record of the combined human and natural influence on greenhouse gas levels.
Data are fed into a sophisticated computer model with 135 ecosystems and 11 ocean basins worldwide. The model calculates carbon release or uptake by oceans, wildfires, fossil fuel combustion, and the biosphere and transforms the data into a color-coded map of sources and storage “sinks.” One of the system’s most powerful assets is its ability to detect natural variations in carbon uptake and release by oceans and vegetation, which could either aid or counteract societies’ efforts to curb fossil fuel emissions on a seasonal basis.
Together with long-term monitoring of atmospheric CO2, Carbon Tracker will help improve our understanding of how carbon uptake and release from land ecosystems and oceans are responding to a changing climate, increasing levels of atmospheric CO2 (the CO2 fertilization effect) and other environmental changes, including human management of land and oceans.
CarbonTracker’s ability to accurately quantify natural and anthropogenic emissions and uptake at regional scales is currently limited by a sparse observational network. With enough observations though, it will become possible to keep track of regional emissions, including those from fossil fuel use, over long periods of time. This will provide an independent check on emissions accounting, estimates of fossil fuel use based on economic inventories, and generally, feedback to policies aimed at limiting greenhouse gas emissions. This independent measure of effectiveness of any policy, provided by the atmosphere itself is the bottom line in any mitigation strategy.
Open access to CarbonTracker results allows anyone to scrutinize the work, suggest improvements, and profit from the efforts. This will accelerate the development of a tool that can monitor, diagnose, and predict the behavior of the global carbon cycle, and the climate that is so intricately connected to it.
National Oceanographic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Earth System Research Laboratory
Columbia University, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO)
Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Environmental Sciences Division, Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center (CDIAC)
University of California, Irvine
Science Systems and Applications, Inc.
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
Meteorological Service of Canada (MSC), Greenhouse Gases Measurement Laboratory
The Netherlands Environmental Agency (RIVM), EDGAR emissions database
The Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI)
Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research Utrecht (IMAU)
Netherlands Institute for Space Research (SRON)