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Gauging Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Our Skies

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

$1.7 million grant will help assess carbon dioxide and methane emission rates over cities

Paul Shepson, 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 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. Greenhouse gas emissions such as carbon dioxide and methane greatly affect the balance of our atmosphere and are largely responsible for climate change.

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.

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Paul Shepson

“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,” said Shepson, an atmospheric scientist who has conducted research with aircraft 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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  • This article highlights a groundbreaking initiative in environmental research, spearheaded by Professor Paul Shepson and his team at Stony Brook University. The comprehensive approach of combining airborne and marine measurements with atmospheric modeling to assess greenhouse gas emissions in major Northeastern cities is commendable. It’s particularly intriguing how this research will contribute to our understanding of urban emission rates and aid in the implementation of climate protection policies like the New York State Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. The integration of various data sources, including satellite-based instruments, promises a more accurate and holistic view of the environmental impact of urban centers. This project not only underscores the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration in tackling climate change but also sets a precedent for similar studies in other regions. It’s exciting to see such innovative research being conducted, and I look forward to the insights and advancements it will bring to environmental science and policy-making.

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