A Network of Sensors to Monitor Greenhouse Gases

The parent company for weather prediction and windspeed-monitoring company Weatherbug has channelled $25m into a global sensor network, thereby refocusing its efforts on greenhouse gas monitoring.

As part of the move, AWS Convergence Technologies, which owns Weatherbug, has renamed itself Earth Networks. It has also announced a partnership with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography to provide what it claims is the world's largest greenhouse gas emissions monitoring network.

Under the terms of the agreement, Earth Networks will create a global network of 100 sensors – 50 of them in the US – to measure greenhouse gas emissions. It will combine data from those sensors with information gleaned from its existing network of weather sensors.

Almost two-decade-old the firm has, until now, built a business around its 8,000 weather tracking stations. Earth Networks has already partnered with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and has launched the first green house gas observation station in the network at Scripps.

A handful of these types of green house gas emissions observation stations are already functional, the first one being deployed by Scripps at the Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii in 1958. However, Earth Networks says these observation stations aren’t networked together and don’t provide a global picture of emissions in enough detail and in real time.

The data that comes out of the sensor network will be used to provide detailed reports and will also be integrated into the WeatherBug app, so companies, governments, municipalities and consumers can check out the data. Some of which will also be available live online.

The sensors, which will be supplied by California-based start-up Picarro, will use cavity ring-down spectroscopy (CRDS) techniques to detect the two greenhouse gases with the longest life spans in the atmosphere: carbon dioxide and methane. Picarro has stuffed all this measuring capability into a portable, 58-pound box of sensors that requires little maintenance. The deal represents a major breakthrough for Picarro, which last year announced that its technology would also be used as part of a new regional greenhouse gas monitoring network in California.

The data will be supplied to research communities, and Earth Networks hopes that policymakers may use it to make better informed decisions about global warming policy.

Earth Networks, which will also incorporate the data into its consumer and professional Weatherbug offerings, says that the initial deployment of greenhouse gas sensors will provide a more granular analysis of regional greenhouse gas data than is currently produced. It eventually hopes to roll out far more sensors, establishing a "network of networks" to further hone its monitoring infrastructure. These sensors will give scientists a window into urban environments' emission levels.

The technology has another potential use: verifying the emissions levels of big gas-producing countries. Today, countries that report to the United Nations self-estimate their emissions, a system with obvious drawbacks.

One reason countries have had such a difficult time agreeing on a climate treaty is because there's no independent system for the measurement, reporting and verification of what actually happens.

If the U.S. ever passes carbon legislation, and if the U.N.’s green house gas negotiations make progress in the next few years, more governments and companies will want to pay Earth Networks to access its green house gas data.

Weatherbug had announced earlier, that it would be providing weather data to utility companies, to help them manage peak loads in their networks.


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