The importance of measuring greenhouse gases

Thursday October 30, 2014 09:24

Measuring station for greenhouse gases essential for effective climate policy

As the article in the NRC of 29 October shows, measuring greenhouse gases in the Netherlands is a highly topical issue. Arjan Hensen, climate researcher and measurements expert at ECN goes deeper into this subject below.

For the last twenty years the Energy research Centre of the Netherlands (ECN) has been taking measurements from the KNMI mast at Cabauw to monitor greenhouse gas levels. Now that more and more businesses are taking responsibility for reducing greenhouse gases, it seems that the Dutch government is taking a step backwards and is reducing its annual funding for measuring these gases. These cost-cutting measures could mean the end of greenhouse gas measuring from the Cabauw mast near Lopik. This would mean we would no longer be able to effectively monitor greenhouse gas levels.

Greenhouse gases lead to global warming
Concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere above the Netherlands are rising. In a nutshell, greenhouse gases lead to global warming, which contributes to rising sea levels and climate problems. Where measurements in remote locations show raised levels in a global perspective, the measurements taken from the KNMI mast at Cabauw show the gas plumes from specific sources and source areas in and around the Netherlands. They provide insight into the extent to which human activity leads to increased concentrations of greenhouse gases. We don't need Cabauw in order to see the greenhouse effect, but the measurements are vital to our understanding of how the greenhouse effect works and what we can do to counteract it.

Decreasing our carbon footprint
The detailed measurements from Cabauw are used to map out the quantities of greenhouse gas emissions. This is essential for us to see whether our emissions are in line with the official greenhouse gas emissions accounting for the Netherlands. Moreover, these measurements stimulate businesses who claim to be reducing emissions and thereby reducing their carbon footprint to keep their promises. This is not a frivolous exercise; for Mother Nature and our paper truths are frequently seen to be at odds. Measuring all emissions at the source is not feasible in practice. The measurements gathered from the KNMI mast go beyond the level of the individual car on the street and the factory in the village; they give a total picture of the situation in the Netherlands as a whole: do the sums add up or not? And this is what makes the measurements from the high mast at Cabauw relevant. The country's highest measuring mast is a vital link in an affective climate policy and its monitoring.

Government and business sector working together
Only when it is known what greenhouse gases are emitted in the Netherlands, and in what quantity and where, can the government and business sector work together to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions. Solid measurements are vital if we are to take the climate problem seriously, and particularly in an issue which is surrounded by so much controversy concerning the facts. So the government and the business sector should together take financial responsibility to ensure Cabauw can continue to operate. Crowd funding could be an option for this. In the USA earlier this month, Executive Chairman of Google Eric Schmidt set a good example by pledging support for the renowned Keeling Curve measurement of carbon dioxide levels on Mauna Loa. What the Keeling Curve is doing on a mountain in the Pacific Ocean, we are doing in the Netherlands.

Read the article in the NRC >>

Arjan Hensen is a climate researcher and measurement expert at the Energy Research Centre of the Netherlands (ECN).

Category: Corporate, Environment