The Vulcan Project: High resolution mapping of fossil fuel based CO2 emissions in the USA

This is a cool video on CO2 emissions from the USA. It is from Purdue University, where a group of researchers have developed a tool for high resolution mapping and analysis of fossil fuel based CO2 emissions from power plants, traffic, industrial activity, and the residential/commercial energy consumption.

The technical significance of the work is probably best stated by Kevin Gurney, a leader of the project (source: Green Car Congress):

Before now the only thing policy-makers could do was take a big blunt tool and bang the US economy with it. Now we have more quantifiable information about what is happening in neighborhoods, on roads and in industrial areas, and track the CO2 by the hour. This offers policy-makers something akin to a scalpel instead.
—Kevin Gurney, assistant professor of earth and atmospheric science at Purdue University and leader of the project

Watching the video I learnt a few interesting things:

  1. CO2 emissions are gigantic in the Eastern corridor (Florida to Massachusetts), the South-eastern US (Atlanta etc), the California corridor, and the mid-western industrial cities (Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit etc).
  2. CO2 emissions have a typical diurnal pattern, high during he daytime when traffic activity picks up and slower at night. A second factor contributing to this effect is the reduced boundary layer height during the day. This corresponds well with the pollution levels, e.g. O3 and PM, that are observed in major urban centers.
  3. There is a considerable difference in CO2 emissions between the center of the city and the outskirts of the city (Chicago and LA were used as example cities). Clearly reducing city-center traffic, by using methods such as congestion charges, better mass-transit systems etc) would help ease the CO2 emission levels.
  4. There is a general transport of CO2 from the Southwest to the Northeast.

While CO2 mixes rapidly in the atmosphere, and hence it is only reasonable to talk of regional and global effects of rising CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere, knowing the emissions in such detail has immense benefit to researchers and policy-makers. Using a tools such as this, policy-makers can better assess the CO2 emission factors from different polluting sectors, and create policy instruments to curtail them. If US was to implement a carbon-tax, or a carbon-credit program, this sort of detailed analysis tool could also be helpful in assigning CO2 reduction responsibilities at local or regional scales (I think the model uses a 10km grid size).

Anyways – watch the video for the fun of it, if nothing else….

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