Japan launches satellite to monitor greenhouse gases

TOKYO Fri Jan 23, 2009 3:00am EST

TOKYO Jan 23 (Reuters) - Japan launched a satellite on Friday to monitor greenhouse gases around the world in the hope that the data it gathers will help global efforts to combat climate change.

The satellite, called "Ibuki" or "vitality" in Japanese, will enable scientists to measure densities of carbon dioxide and methane from 56,000 locations on the Earth's surface, including the atmosphere over open seas.

That would compare with just 282 land-based observation sites as of last October, mostly of which are in the United States, Europe and other industrialised regions, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency has said.

Japanese officials hope the data will add credence to existing research on greenhouse gases, including reports by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a group of hundreds of scientists.

"It would contribute to raising certainties in IPCC research that greenhouse gases are increasing," said Yasushi Tadami, deputy director of research and information at the Environment Ministry's global environment bureau.

"It will also advance research on the mechanism of carbon cycles."

Equipped with two sensors, the satellite will track infrared rays from the Earth, which will help calculate the densities of carbon dioxide and methane because these two greenhouse gases absorb the rays at certain wavelengths.

NASA is sponsoring its own Orbiting Carbon Observatory to be launched this year to collect measurements on carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere.

Both satellites come as about 190 countries try to craft a broader climate treaty by December to replace the Kyoto Protocol that binds wealthy nations to emissions targets between 2008 and 2012.

Data on greenhouse gas densities may not be ready for those talks by the end of the year, but Tadami hoped the findings are nevertheless useful in mapping future climate policies.

"The satellite will be in orbit for five years and we hope that during that time, the data leads to more detailed climate policies," he said.

A top U.N. climate official said last week that anything to improve global monitoring systems of greenhouse gases would be helpful in finding ways to curb and adapt to global warming.

"Being able to measure what is happening is incredibly important to developing a robust international climate change response," Yvo de Boer, head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat, told Reuters last week.

"You wouldn't expect it in this modern day and age, but actually our ability to monitor greenhouse gas emissions is still relatively weak -- weak in industrialised countries but even weaker in many developing countries." (Reporting by Chisa Fujioka; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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