I Spy a Lot of Carbon Dioxide | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 01.03.2002
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I Spy a Lot of Carbon Dioxide

With the launch of the carbon dioxide-measuring satellite Envisat, Europe makes its pitch as world leader in all things environmental.


It may not look pretty, but it gets the job done.

With NASA preoccupied exploring the rest of the universe, Europe has managed to carve out a niche for itself focusing on the health of planet Earth.

On Friday, the European Space Agency celebrated the successful launch of the Envisat satellite 800 kilometers (497 miles) into space from Kourou, French Guiana. The 2.3 billion euro satellite is outfitted with 10 different measuring instruments designed to gather information on earth’s carbon dioxide levels.

The hope is to eventually produce a three-dimensional carbon dioxide map of the earth which will tell researchers not only what the levels are but where they are the highest.

"In matters environmental, we Europeans are at the moment the world leader," said Hartmut Grassl, director of Hamburg’s Max-Planck Institute for Meteorology. As a result, he said "we should also have the leading environmental instruments."

Looking for carbon dioxide

Researchers at Bremen University developed the sensor able to measure the gases, which goes by the unwieldy acronym SCIAMACHI. In addition to finding out where carbon dioxide comes from, the sensor will also be able to measure where it goes.

It will give researchers the ability to measure which forests absorb the most carbon dioxide gases. Another sensor keeps an eye on the carbon dioxide levels in algae and vegetation.

"The question is not so much how much ozone or carbon dioxide is there but rather where is it?" Professor John P. Burroughs of the University of Bremen told Deutsche Welle. "This is an equally important question, and it tells us how the mechanisms of the earth’s atmosphere function."

Scientists will then be able to use the data in pressuring politicians to move forward on more comprehensive environmental programs, said Paul Crutzen, won the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1995.

Barring any new launchings, German scientists will have some time to do the necessary convincing: the Envisat satellite is scheduled to be in operation for between five and 10 years.

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