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Central Focus: Developing a modeling tool to track carbon emissions

Central Michigan University
Dr. Tao Zheng

Pinpointing the precise origin of carbon emissions AND the point where they become carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere is the work of CMU's Dr. Tao Zheng

Below is a transcript of our conversation with Dr. Tao Zheng: David Nicholas:

I'm David Nicholas and this is Central Focus. So weekly look at research activity and innovative work from Central Michigan University students and faculty. Tracking the location and level of carbon emissions is a key part of understanding and limiting the impacts of climate change. Pinpointing the precise origin of the emissions and the point where they become carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere is the work of Doctor Tao Zheng, Professor in CMU's Department of Geography and Environmental Studies. He is working with NASA to develop a modeling tool to gather this data.

Tao Zheng:

A global online transport model for chemistry is one of the tools we need to monitor(ing) where the carbon emission will call the carbon flux from. It's basically, where the carbon dioxide exchange between the earth's surface, that's land, the ocean into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is greenhouse gas. That's the problem for climate change increasing. So, our purpose is to monitor, to figure out where those flags come from. At what time? From which country? Now to do that? We need a satellite. But satellite only see where the carbon is now in the atmosphere. Imagine that, the smoke from the Canadian fire and Upper Michigan. It's not from Michigan, is sourced from somewhere else. So, although satellite can see that where it is, it cannot see where it come from. That's where the transport model that we developed come from.


Is that something then that that is here on Earth or are there components that are also then installed in the satellite to link the two together? How does that connection work?


The link is actually this chemical transport model which take the unknown quantity of the flux of carbon dioxide from the surface either from ocean or from land. From cities and transport that by weather. Into other places we have to combine that model simulated carbon dioxide in the atmosphere with the current dioxide actually saw by the satellite. We combined the two. We trace it backward. That's the second component of the modeling that's called adjunct model of the transport model, which is pretty hard to understand. But in a nutshell, is basically take carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Trace back. Backward in time to its source, and so the work I have done prior to the current project, current funding from NASA is developing that transfer model, developing the adjunct model of that transfer model. Now we're in a stage we're ready because we have tools to combine that with satellite observations. The three things together. We call that. A variational. A simulation system we should fancy word to say that we combine the actual observation for a satellite with model simulation to figure out where the flux of carbon is from. So that's pretty much what it is.


The news reports on climate change tell us that China and the United States are the two leading contributors to the carbon emissions. Are you looking to further quantify that in terms of how much or maybe even particular regions of the two nations or tap into perhaps areas of the world that we before now have not thought of as being ones that would be emitting a lot of the carbon and we're trying to find all of those different sources?


Well, David, that's really insightful question. Because a (a) long term goal for NASA and also for other agencies from other countries, is really something called the monitoring, verification and report of carbon emission, and this is the ultimate goal; to reduce carbon emission in the foreseeable future, hopefully. To prevent the climate change going through that tipping points, we don't really have very good way to monitoring how much carbon dioxide is being released or absorbed global wise. We are at the stage currently is developing the tool, testing the tool. The purpose, while that's in long term purpose is to have, figure out how much carbon dioxide from certain region, including China, including United States, and, actually these two countries relatively easier. Because they are large and this, these are smaller countries and smaller countries with large carbon footprint, that is harder.


Already your foresight to adapt this to future developments of the technology, so we have that to look forward to as the project continues. Dr. Zheng, thank you very much for sharing the innovative work with us. And best of luck as the work continues.


Thank you, David. Thank you for having me.

David Nicholas is WCMU's local host of All Things Considered.
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