CarbonSat is a satellite mission initially proposed to the European Space Agency (ESA) by University of Bremen, Institute of Environmental Physics (IUP), and European greenhouse gas (GHG) experts for ESA's Earth Explorer 8 satellite.

CarbonSat Mission Statement: The main goal of CarbonSat is to advance our knowledge on the natural and man-made sources and sinks of the two most important anthropogenic greenhouse gases carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) from the regional/sub-continental via the country to the local scale. CarbonSat is designed to be the first satellite mission to image small scale emission hot spots of CO2 (e.g., cities, volcanoes, industrial areas) and CH4 (e.g., fossil fuel production, landfills, seeps) and to quantify their emissions and discriminate them from surrounding biospheric fluxes.

Unfortunately, CarbonSat will not be ESA's 8th Earth Explorer as the competing mission FLEX has been selected (e.g., BBC news). We congratulate the FLEX team for this achievement!

Fortunately, this may not be the end of the story for CarbonSat, see article and figures related to IUP's "Picture of the Month" December 2015: "European Commission's Experts recommend University of Bremen's concept for quantifying greenhouse gas emissions from space".

For CarbonSat mission and performance details please see this Report for Mission Selection: CarbonSat, a document generated as input for the ESA Earth Explorer 8 User Consultation Meeting, which took place in Krakow, Poland, 15-16 September 2015.

The CO2 and CH4 source/sink information will be derived from CarbonSat's main atmospheric data products, which are the column-averaged dry air mole fractions (mixing ratios) of CO2 and CH4, i.e., XCO2 and XCH4. In addition, CarbonSat will deliver a number of other important high-quality data products such as vegetation chlorophyll Sun-Induced Fluorescence (SIF) at 755 nm.

CarbonSat has a number of scale-specific objectives:

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Additional information and history:

On 24 Nov 2010 our proposed satellite mission "Carbon Monitoring Satellite (CarbonSat)" has been selected by ESA to be one of two candidate missions for the 8th Earth Explorer Opportunity (EE-8) mission (see ESA website).

Here the University of Bremen press release: in German: Bremer Treibhausgas-Satellit CarbonSat von Europäischer Weltraumbehörde ESA ausgewählt and in English: Greenhouse Gas Satellite Mission CarbonSat selected by European Space Agency ESA.

ESA: "The CarbonSat Earth Explorer-8 candidate mission aims to image and quantify the distribution of the two most important greenhouse gases in the atmosphere released through human actvity: carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4)."

Press releases (5 March 2014): CarbonSats new innovative "Greenhouse gas imaging" concept successfully demonstrated using Methane Airborne Mapper (MAMAP) aircraft observations: ESA: Pinpointing sources of greenhouse gases. Univ. Bremen, IUP, german text and figures: Umweltdetektiv für Treibhausgase: CarbonSat-Messkonzept der Uni Bremen erfolgreich getestet (corresponding Press Release Univ. Bremen).

Why CarbonSat? CO2 and CH4 are the two most important anthropogenic ("man-made") greenhouse gases responsible for global warming. Despite their importance, our knowledge about their variable natural and anthropogenic sources and sinks has large gaps. An appropriate knowledge about their sources and sinks is a pre-requisite for reliable climate prediction. Satellites can add important missing global information. Currently two satellite instruments are (or were until recently) in orbit measuring CO2 and CH4 with high sensitivity down to the Earth's surface where the regional source/sink signal is largest: SCIAMACHY onboard the European ENVISAT satellite (2002-2012) and TANSO aboard the Japanese GOSAT satellite (since 2009). In summer 2014 OCO-2 will continue the CO2 time series.

In order to continue the satellite CO2 and CH4 global timeseries after SCIAMACHY, GOSAT and OCO-2 and to deliver important additional information on CO2 and CH4, we proposed a new satellite mission: Carbon Monitoring Satellite - CarbonSat.

CarbonSat will measure globally the atmospheric concentrations ("dry-air column-averaged mixing ratios") of CO2 and CH4 with high spatial resolution (goal: 2 x 2 km2) and very good spatial coverage (goal: 500 km swath width). These atmospheric measurements can be used for inverse modelling of natural and anthropogenic CO2 and CH4 surface fluxes (emissions and uptake, i.e., sources and sinks). With its GHG imaging approach in combination with vegetation fluorescence derived from CarbonSats measurements, CarbonSat will for the first time help to disentangle natural and anthropogenic sources and sinks of CO2 and CH4.

Currently, CarbonSat is being optimized and studies are ongoing to quantify how precise and accurate CarbonSats CO2 and CH4 obervations will be under all possible measurement conditions (e.g., Buchwitz et al., AMT, 2013 and Buchwitz et al., ESA Living Planet Symposium conference proceedings, 2013).

Furthermore, CarbonSat will also provide a number of high-quality so-called secondary products such as Vegetation Chlorophyll Fluorescence (also called Solar Induced Fluorescence) (Buchwitz et al., AMT, 2013).

CarbonSat will map - for the first time - the detailed spatial pattern of the CO2 emissions of moderate to strong localized emission sources such as coal-fired power plants (Bovensmann et al., AMT, 2010). CarbonSat also has the capability to monitor CO2 emissions of major cities (e.g., Buchwitz et al., AMTD, 2013) and from strong geological sources such as volcanoes. Similar capabilities exist also for methane, which has strong localized emission sources such as fossil energy prduction facilities (oil, gas, coal) and large waste disposal sites. CarbonSat glint observation mode over oceans/water will allow to track for the first time from space not well-characterized strong marine geological CH4 emission sources including large seeps, mud volcanoes or methane releases from the destabilization of shallow marine arctic gas hydrates.

CarbonSat is therefore an important step towards a future monitoring and verification system for anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, which is needed in the context of international "post-Kyoto/post-Kopenhagen" climate agreements (see, e.g., this National Research Council Report).

The need for CarbonSat type of measurements is underlined in the GEO Carbon Strategy report prepared by the Group on Earth Observations (GEO). GEO has also generated a GEO: Carbon Monitoring Showcase video nicely illustrating the need for global observations of CO2 and CH4. In case of problems to see the video: Goto to youtube and search for "GEO: Carbon Monitoring Showcase" or use this link: or try this one:

One CarbonSat will significantly advance our understanding of the sources and sinks of CO2 and CH4. There are however limitations. Especially for sources with significant time-dependent emissions it would be advantageous to overfly them more frequently than possible with a single satellite. To improve on this we also think about a "CarbonSat Constellation", i.e., a series of CarbonSats from, for example, several nations. Some of our results related to this aspect are given in Velazco et al., 2011.

If you would like to know more about the original CarbonSat concept from 2010, please have a look at the CarbonSat Mission Overview (pdf, 0.6 MB). Updates and additional information are given on this web site.

If you would like to know what we have achieved with SCIAMACHY, here the link to our SCIAMACHY carbon gases website.

The global "Greenhouse gas from space" time series, which begins with SCIAMACHY and is currently being continued with GOSAT, is currently being further improved and extended: In Europe these activities are primarily carried out in the framework of ESAs Climate Change Initiative (CCI) within the GHG-CCI project led by IUP, Univ. Bremen.

See also our From SCIAMACHY to CarbonSat animation (wmv, 13.5 MB).

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Author of this page: Michael Buchwitz, last modification: 6 June 2016