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Gauging Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Our Skies


$1.7 million grant supports flights over northeast urban corridor to sample greenhouse gases; SoMAS professor and collaborators to assess carbon dioxide and methane emission rates over cities

STONY BROOK, NY, July 5, 2023 – Greenhouse gas emissions such as carbon dioxide and methane greatly affect the balance of our atmosphere and are largely responsible for climate change. Paul Shepson, PhD, Distinguished SUNY Professor and Dean of the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS) at Stony Brook University, has received a $1.725 million grant from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to conduct flights with a specially equipped aircraft to complete air sampling and modeling analysis of greenhouse gas emissions from the Northeast urban corridor of the United States. The project, which runs through February of 2026, is expected to produce data to increase and improve scientists’ quantitative knowledge of carbon dioxide and methane emission rates for cities such as New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, DC.

Shepson and his collaborators will set a series of flights to quantify greenhouse gas emission rates over the Northeast urban corridor. Two platforms will be used – the Purdue University Airborne Laboratory for Atmospheric Research (ALAR) and the SoMAS R/V Seawolf, an ocean-going research vessel that has the same instrument as the  ALAR aircraft to measure carbon dioxide and methane as it cruises coastal Northeast urban areas. The team will use a range of atmospheric modeling approaches to interpret the data collected from the aircraft missions. They will combine this data with towers that measure greenhouse gases located in the Northeast, including one at SoMAS’ Flax Pond Marine Laboratory on Long Island.

View of the Hudson River, with Manhattan to the left from the cockpit of the ALAR aircraft.
Credit: Cody Floerchinger

“We expect to conduct ongoing aircraft sampling across the region with the ALAR aircraft, with inverse modeling analysis for emission rate determination for each of the urban cores, across all seasons, and days of the week,” says Shepson, an atmospheric scientist who has conducted research with aircrafts he has piloted for more than 20 years. “Then we will begin connecting our measurements from the aircraft to those from satellite-based instruments over New York City.”

Shepson explains that on a broader scale information about greenhouse gas emission rates from the flights and methods to analyze the information can help scientists better observe and follow the progress of the New York State Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, legislation with the goal to greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the coming years.

Shepson and a team of international researchers have already published several papers based on aircraft-conducted atmospheric measurements. A more recent research article from 2022 revealed that methane emissions from New York City are currently underestimated.

Key collaborators of the current NIST-supported project include Anna Karion and David Allen from the NIST; Xinrong Ren from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; Russ Dickerson, University of Maryland; and Joe Pitt, University of Bristol in England.

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