Are we soaking up more CO2

Wednesday 4 Apr 2018

Are we soaking up more CO2 than we think? - Satellites watching over New Zealand might show our forests are soaking up more CO2 than estimated - and leave us better off under international climate change commitments.

The rise in humanity’s technological prowess has undoubtedly impacted the Earth’s environment. However, though technology has played a role in creating these problems, it is also helping scientists understand and tackle them.

Researchers are developing and implementing a sophisticated array of modern instruments to measure climate change factors and assist in building greenhouse gas inventories for our government and the United Nations.

Increasingly, earth observation satellites are being used around the world to measure greenhouse gases and to catalogue associated influencers of climate change, such as changes in forestry stocks.

New Zealand is part of this movement, developing earth observation data to understand and manage the country’s carbon footprint and track progress in meeting its Kyoto Protocol obligations.

All things being equal, New Zealand would be expected to exceed our emissions cap for this commitment period of the Kyoto protocol. However, by using removals from forestry and a portion of the surplus units from the first Kyoto commitment period, we are projected to come in under forecast.

Under the Kyoto Protocol framework, net removals from forestry activities can be used to counter-balance gross emissions. Forests absorb CO2 from the atmosphere as vegetation grows, acting as a carbon sink. The carbon budget is the balance of the sources of greenhouse gas emissions put against carbon sinks. In this commitment period from 2013 to 2020, emissions and removals from forestry are projected to amount to 102.9 million tonnes of CO2 uptake - going some way to meet our 2020 targets. New Zealand is currently projected to recognise 26 million of surplus CP1 units to meet its 2020 target.

Understanding and evaluating a whole country's carbon emissions and uptake is a monumental job, only possible through the use of advancing technology. Earth observation satellites, for example, offer scientists ways to measure these carbon sinks and find ways to harness and calculate the effect of them.

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Source: Baz McDonald via

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