UK/Brazil Research Network for an Amazonian Carbon Observatory

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: School of Earth and Environment


The importance of the greenhouse gases CO2 and CH4 for climate is well established. There is broad scientific consensus that human activities are the main driver for increasing concentrations of these greenhouse gases (GHGs), particularly over the past century. Based on accurate surface measurements we know that approximately 45% of the CO2 emitted by human activities remain in the atmosphere. The net balance is apparently being taken up by global oceans, terrestrial vegetation and soils. However, there are substantial uncertainties associated with the nature, location and strength of these natural components of the carbon cycle.
The Amazon region is one of the largest forested regions in the world, representing the largest reservoir of above ground organic carbon. Amazonia is not only subject to changes in climate but also to rapid environmental change due to fast population growth and economic development causing extensive deforestation and urbanisation. Such external drivers can lead to further shifts in the carbon balance resulting in release of carbon stored in the biomass and soil to the atmosphere, with implications for accelerating the growth of atmospheric GHG concentrations and climate change.
Despite its important role for the global carbon cycle, current understanding of the Amazonian, and more broadly the tropical, carbon cycle is poorly constrained by observations. These knowledge gaps result in large uncertainties in the fate of the Amazonian carbon budget under a warming climate, and consequently hamper any predictive skill of carbon-climate models.
Since 2009, the Amazon region has been the focus of major UK and Brazilian research projects that aim at improving our knowledge of the Amazonian carbon cycle using detailed, but localized aircraft observations of CO2 and CH4 at a number of sites. These measurements are a great advance but they remain highly localized in space and time. Space-borne measurements have the ability to fill these observational gaps by providing observations with dense spatial and temporal coverage in regions poorly sampled by surface networks. It is essential, however, that such space-based observations are properly tied to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) reference standard to ensure acceptance of space-based datasets by the carbon cycle community and to prevent misleading results on regional carbon budgets. The central aim of this proposal is to link the in-situ measurements with remotely sensed satellite data to establish an integrated Amazonian Carbon Observatory where satellite data complements the in situ data by filling the gaps between the in situ sites and by extending the coverage over the whole Amazon region.
Satellite observations of GHGs are now available from a dedicated instrument on board the Japanese GOSAT satellite and results look very promising. However, satellite retrievals over the Amazon (and the Tropics) are intrinsically difficult and the accuracy of such GHG retrievals has not been established for this region which is a major obstacle for the exploitation of space-based data to constrain carbon fluxes over the Amazon.
We propose to establish a network of Brazilian and UK researchers to bridge the gap between in-situ and remote sensing observations and communities and to evaluate the feasibility of remote sensing of GHG concentrations for the purpose of GHG flux monitoring over Amazonia to improve our understanding of the Amazonian carbon cycle and to increase our ability for observing tropical carbon fluxes.
The proposed network will bring together world-class expertise to address highly relevant and timely scientific questions that will advance our understanding of the carbon cycle of the Amazon. It will strongly strengthen and expand UK and Brazilian relationships and it will help further strengthen the leading role of UK researchers in many areas relevant to this proposal.

Planned Impact

The main academic beneficiaries are scientists with a research interest in atmospheric, Earth observation, carbon cycle or climate science (for more details see academic beneficiaries)
Non-academic beneficiaries benefitting from the proposed network will be government and non-government organizations involved in policies and actions on climate change and regional carbon emissions within national and international emissions policies and treaties, in particular the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC). The Amazon and the Tropics are an area subject to substantial deforestation and land-use change which is a major concern for policy makers. During the 13th Conference of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change UNFCCC) it has been agreed that Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) should be included in its post-2012 agreement. The proposed network will contribute to improve monitoring capabilities of greenhouse gas fluxes over the Amazon and eventually to help develop appropriate carbon management strategies.
Representatives of DECC, the Brazilian government (e.g. - Minister of Science and Technology) and other relevant organizations will be invited to the workshops and we will include potential stakeholders when collecting needs and requirements by users (see WP1). Specifically, we hope that stakeholders will play an important role when developing a strategy for an Amazonian Carbon Observatory (WP3)
We will also develop and maintain a dedicated project web page where information tailored to non-academic beneficiaries will be provided. We will make the outcomes of the workshops available via a project report and a white paper.
Another group of beneficiaries will be the UK space industry with projects and interests in the area of greenhouse gas satellite missions. We have very good links to UK space industry e.g. via the proposed Tropical Carbon Mission which is jointly proposed by University of Edinburgh, University of Leicester and Surrey Space Technologies Ltd. Furthermore, several investigators are actively engaged in the NERC CEOI centre and we will use this forum to inform and engage this group of stakeholders.
Finally, there is also a large interest in the general public on aspects of climate change and Earth observations and we will provide information specifically tailored for the general public and schools. We will use press releases, general articles (eg. Planet Earth), the project webpage and lectures at public events to provide information to the general public about subjects related to the network. Outreach to schools will be an important aspect for engagement with the wider public and we will work closely with the Leicester Space Academy to provide dedicated lectures for schools.
Description We have measured vertical greenhouse profiles up to 8km height at two sites in the Amazon - one located at the coast and one inside the Amazon basin. These data permit to assess to some extent transport of greenhouse gases from the lower atmospheric boundary layer to the mid-troposphere, an important ingredient to use these profiles to estimate greenhouse gas balances. The results suggest that the transport to mid troposphere is minor thus permitting to use profiles measured up to 4.5 km height to estimate greenhous gas balances of the Amazon region. The profiles measured up to 8 km height also permit a better evaluation of consistency between CH4 column retrievals from space and in-situ measured data.
Exploitation Route The results and data will be available to other groups.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment

Description The main application of the results is helping to enable greenhouse monitoring using in situ data and - importantly also atmospheric gas concentration measurements from space - like e.g. those from the most recently launched OCO-2 mission; our results have an immediate impact on this specific application (as some of us are involved in these missions). Our data have permitted to validate remote sensing retrievals from space. Several manuscripts have been published or are being submitted in the near future.
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Societal

Description Air column Greenhouse and atmospheric composition retrieval using FTIR, Porto Velho 
Organisation Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy
Country Belgium 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution The NERC project led to installation of an FTIR at Porto Velho. This instrument now retrieves regularly whole air column atmospheric composition data. It is to our knowledge the first and only one inside the Amazon basin. Amongst others it is of great value for validating satellite instruments based on the same principle.
Collaborator Contribution They run the station and retrievals.
Impact Ongoing - no publications yet.
Start Year 2016
Description Collaboration with Saulo Freitas INPE/CPTEC Brazil 
Organisation National Institute for Space Research Brazil
Department Weather Forecasting and Climate Studies Centre (CPTEC)
Country Brazil 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Development of high resolution atmospheric transport and dispersion models over the Amazon
Start Year 2012