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Satellite will show how the earth 'breathes'

(Jan 2009) A satellite that will measure how the earth “breathes out” greenhouse gases is to be launched into space this month.

The Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite (GOSAT) has been created in Japan to monitor emissions from around the planet from space and it is hoped the data it provides will help in the fight against global warming.

The orbiting satellite will track the emission of carbon dioxide and methane, gases that contribute heavily to the greenhouse effect.

Dubbed Ibuki – Japanese for “breath” – the satellite will record greenhouse gas emissions in 56,000 locations across the globe while orbiting the planet once every three days at an altitude of 666km.

While there are currently around 280 observations points around the world monitoring greenhouse gas emissions, the new satellite will offer scientists a non-terrestrial perspective of global emissions for the first time.

Takashi Hamazaki, satellite project manager of the satellite at Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said: “Ground observation points at present [ ] are not evenly distributed, so we can by no means say we are observing the entire globe.

“By comparison, GOSAT will have 56,000 observation points and will be able to acquire data covering the entire globe every three days. We think this will improve the accuracy of global warming predictions.”

The absorption of carbon dioxide by the planet’s plants and its photosynthesis into oxygen forms part of the cycle of “breathing” which scientists will be able to monitor, along with greenhouse gases emitted by deforestation, factories and the burning of natural fuels.

The denser the gases such as carbon dioxide and methane, the more infrared rays of light are absorbed, enabling the satellite to determine their concentration via the strength of the light emitted.

The data from the satellite will be updated every three days and analysed by researchers at the Environment Ministry and the National Institute for Environmental Studies, before being distributed freely to scientists around the globe.

“I’d like to watch the earth breathing,” said Mr Hamazaki. “I’d like to make a visual model of the Earth and its various ecosystems’ inhalation and exhalation of CO2 and methane.” The project, which costs an estimated £259 million (34.6 billion yen), will be launched into space from Tanegashima Space Centre in Japan on Jan 21.

By Danielle Demetriou in Tokyo, 05 Jan 2009

Source Telegraph