NOAA Developing Tower Network to Monitor Air

A new sensor in what will be a broad nationwide network for tracking carbon is now monitoring the air over Colorado's Front Range, the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced on July 31.

A 1,000-foot-high tower east of Erie is one of 12 "tall towers" being instrumented by NOAA to capture the regional ebb and flow of atmospheric carbon. This network of sensors monitors the natural carbon cycle and fossil fuel emissions, which help drive climate change. NOAA's Earth System Research Lab (ESRL) in Boulder, Colo., is developing the tower network across the nation as part of its global observations of carbon-cycle gases.

"Boulder and other cities are spending money to reduce their fossil fuel emissions. They need accurate data to know what is working and what is not," said ESRL scientist Arlyn Andrews. "With this new regional information, decision-makers will be able to see if their emissions reductions have an impact on the atmosphere."

Cities and states have relied on proxy data, such as point-source inventories, gasoline sales records, and other tallies to estimate fossil fuel emissions, but there has been no objective way to verify what is released into the atmosphere.

The tower instruments in Erie are expected to give scientists the detailed information they need to tell how the region's carbon dioxide is affected by forests, crops, or an upwind Front Range city. Finding carbon monoxide in the same air parcel, for example, is a clue that the carbon dioxide source is a high-traffic urban area, since carbon monoxide is produced through combustion.

As other towers in the network collect similar regional details from around the country, the data will be fed into ESRL's online Carbon Tracker site (, a powerful data framework unveiled earlier this year. Now geared to scientists, Carbon Tracker will ultimately provide easy-to-use information on local scales for policymakers, business leaders, teachers and the public.

For more information, contact ESRL at

This article originally appeared in the 08/01/2007 issue of Environmental Protection.

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