by Mark Kaufman and MaryAnn Jackson / Hampton, Va. /
Atmospheric Carbon and Transport – America, or ACT-America, kicked off July 18. Here are ten things we think you should know about this aiborne field campaign:
- The ACT-America study will last 5 years. Each airborne campaign will last six weeks and fly during every season: fall, winter, spring and twice during the summer over the eastern United States.
- Other than studying the transport, sources and sinks of carbon dioxide, ACT-America seeks to better understand the sources of methane release into the atmosphere. Methane is an especially potent greenhouse gas—“pound for pound,” a methane emission has 25 times the warming effect of carbon dioxide. (Source: https://www3.epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/gases/ch4.html)
- In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the digestive processes of domestic livestock, like cattle and sheep, produce 22 percent of the country’s methane emissions. Globally, however, these animals are believed to be the primary contributors to methane emissions.
- Both ACT-America planes, the C-130 and B-200, are fitted with instruments that actively take in bits of the atmosphere as they fly over the rural and urban areas of the United States.
- The larger of the two ACT-America planes, the C-130, can stay aloft in eastern American skies for up to 8 hours, cutting “lawnmower” patterns through the atmosphere.
- During the growing season, forests serve as effective carbon sinks, taking carbon dioxide from the air and turning it into leaves and other plant matter. During winter, however, when leaves drop and plants decay, these same forests become sources. But are these forests net sinks or net sources of carbon dioxide? ACT-America intends to find out.
- At times, the C-130 aircraft will fly underneath, or “under-fly,” a NASA satellite called the Orbiting Carbon Observatory – 2 (OCO-2). Like ACT-America, OCO-2 measures the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in order to characterize its sources and sinks. ACT-America’s measurements will help to evaluate the accuracy of the satellite’s observations.
- Terrestrial ecosystems, like farms and forests, remove one-fourth of anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions from the atmosphere. ACT-America wants to better understand where this is happening and how these sinks might evolve in the future.
- ACT-America is flying over the eastern United States—regions east of the Rockies—because they provide ideal environments to study the transport, release and absorption of carbon: lively and dynamic weather systems, abundant forests and farms, cities, and productive industries.
- Understanding how weather moves carbon around the atmosphere will benefit our understanding of an uncertain climatic future. In five years, says Principal Investigator Ken Davis, “we should be able to better manage and predict the future climate.”