The National Science Foundation Office of Polar Programs has awarded ORAU a collaborative research grant to study greenhouse gas emissions in the Arctic. The award is valued at $581,829.
The grant will be used to study local and regional emissions of isotopes of methane and carbon dioxide. Methane and carbon dioxide are two greenhouse gases. Greenhouse gases can help raise the Earth’s temperature, changing the climate and causing other significant changes. (Isotopes are different forms of an element that have equal numbers of protons but different numbers of neutrons in their nuclei.)
In a press release, ORAU said carbon stored in permafrost is increasingly vulnerable to thaw and decomposition by microbes as northern latitudes such as the Arctic continue to warm.
“This decomposition has the potential to lead to large increases in methane and carbon dioxide emissions, both important greenhouse gases,” ORAU said. “Accurate and reliable forecasts of greenhouse gas emissions are critical for the improvement of global models that predict changes to temperature and sea level.”
ORAU said data and modeling can be used to inform local residents about the changes happening to their environment and help predict likely future changes.
Improving the models requires advances in what is known about the sources of methane and carbon dioxide. Researchers want to learn more about how the net flux—the difference between gas emissions and absorptions—might change as the Arctic warms. Comparing aircraft-derived fluxes to local tower measurements and land classification maps will allow for the determination of the primary causes of different emissions, the press release said.
The grant will fund research that measures emissions of carbon dioxide and methane, plus nitrous oxide and water vapor, from the North Slope of Alaska. Researchers will use a small aircraft operating at altitudes from 10 meters to 10 kilometers. The plane will have custom-built spectroscopic sensors, an air turbulence probe, and global positioning systems (GPS), ORAU said.
This project bridges a gap between local studies of carbon emissions in the Arctic, such as those from flux towers, and large regional estimates of emissions from inversion modeling, ORAU said. Inverse modeling is a statistical approach used to trace atmospheric measurements of the magnitude and patterns of fluxes at the earth’s surface.
Praveena Krishnan serves as the principal investigator for the project. Krishnan is an atmospheric scientist specialized in atmospheric boundary layer dynamics. She works at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Air Resources Laboratory’s Atmospheric Turbulence and Diffusion Division in Oak Ridge, which is managed by ORAU.
“This award reflects NSF’s statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation’s intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria,” the press release said.