Modeling Carbon Emissions In The United States

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A study conducted by Purdue University has recently shown that the CO2 emissions in the United States are not all located where they were expected to be. According to Kevin Gurney, assistant professor of earth and atmospheric science at Purdue University, "We've been attributing too many emissions to the northeastern United States, and it's looking like the southeastern United States is a much larger source than we had estimated previously."

Purdue's new CO2 modeling system, called Vulcan, develops models more than a hundred times more detailed than prior models. They are collecting CO2 emissions at local levels on an hourly basis. Prior to that, readings were collected only once a month on a statewide basis. One of the strong points about this new model is the derivation of the CO2 value. The CO2 reading is calculated by transforming the data on local air pollution (such as carbon monoxide and nitrous oxide).

It is the hope of the project team that Vulcan will be able to help lawmakers create effective policies to reduce CO2 emissions in appropriate amounts in the right areas.

According to Gurney, "Before now, the only thing policy makers could do was take a big blunt tool and bang the U.S. economy with it. Now we have more quantifiable information about what is happening in neighborhoods, on roads, and in industrial areas, and track the CO2 by the hour. This offers policy makers something akin to a scalpel instead."

Vulcan's CO2 values reflect all the CO2 from the burning of fossil fuels and tracks hourly outputs from power plants, industries, highways, business districts, and residential neighborhoods. As soon as Vulcan produced its maps, the research team realized that past CO2 calculations were inadequate. Gurney further adds, "When you compare the old inventories to Vulcan, the new data show atmospheric CO2 differences that are as large as five parts per million in some U.S. regions in the late winter. The levels in the global atmosphere only rise one and a half parts per million every year, so this is the equivalent of three years of global emissions in the atmosphere that isn't where we thought it was. This will be important for policy makers and is enormous from a scientific point of view. It's shocking."

According to James E. Hansen at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, Vulcan is helpful because it provides a "check to judge the accuracy of existing satellite data."

Robert Andres of the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center at the U.S. Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee says the Vulcan project is able to provide scientists with many insights into the global carbon cycle and climate change. He also commented, "Vulcan will be revolutionary in carbon cycle research. It is the next generation in our understanding of fossil fuel emissions. The implications for climate science, carbon trading, and climate change mitigation work are tremendous."

Models like Vulcan are now being developed that allow scientists to understand the complex issues at hand with global warming and climate change. If scientists can convey the message in a meaningful way to policy makers such as the Vulcan updateable interactive mapping system, the education process of global warming can be put into motion. Then, if policy makers understand the critical importance of acting now and begin measures to cut carbon output and sequester existing carbon sources, slowing the ill effects of global warming can become a reality that will benefit future generations.

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