A new research infrastructure to decipher the greenhouse gas balance of Europe and adjacent regions
Philippe Ciais, Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l'Environnement. Institut Pierre-Simon Laplace, CEA-CNRS-UVSQ, France
ICOS will provide the long-term observations required to understand the present state and predict future behavior of the global carbon cycle and greenhouse gas emissions
ICOS will monitor and assess the effectiveness of carbon sequestration and/or greenhouse gases emission reduction activities on global atmospheric composition levels, including attribution of sources and sinks by region and sector
Climate change is one the most challenging problems that humanity will have to cope with in the coming decades. The IPCC has established with certainty that the observed rise of temperature is due to increasing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, driven by man-made emissions overtaking the natural cycles of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O). The perturbed global biogeochemical cycles of these greenhouse gases are the driving force of current and future climate change.
The concentrations of CO2 and CH4 in the atmosphere are at the highest they have been in the past 25 million years. Current levels of CO2 have increased by 30% from pre-industrial times and they continue to rise, as fossil fuel emissions are climbing up at a high rate. Current levels of CH4 are nearly triple the pre-industrial value.
These changes are caused by human activities; the primary agents of change are fossil fuel combustion and modifications of global vegetation through land use change, in particular deforestation. The natural carbon cycle offers a discount of 50% on the Earth greenhouse effect by absorbing half of the anthropogenic emissions. At the current atmospheric level of CH4, the natural oxidizing power cleans up almost all the CH4 injected by human and natural sources but expected increases of emissions will further raise the CH4 mixing ratios.
Deeper understanding of the driving forces of climate change requires full quantification of the greenhouse gas emissions and sinks and their evolution. Regional greenhouse gas flux patterns, tipping-points and vulnerabilities can be assessed by long term, high precision observations in the atmosphere and at the ocean and land surface.
“The Mauna Loa curve, simple and unambiguous, thrust itself before humanity’s eyes, changing our view of the world. Keeling’s work was far ahead of its time. It was the 1970s before other quality-controlled data sets got going. Had we not had his long backrecord, awareness of global change would have come more slowly. Sudden events, such as the marked fluctuations in global CO2 uptake after the 1991 volcanic eruption of Mount Pinatubo, may have looked very different in the context of a 15-year rather than a 30-year record.” Euan Nisbet, Nature (2008).
It was realized early that, high precision long-term carbon cycle observations form the essential basis of carbon cycle understanding and that these observations must be secured beyond the lifetime of a research project, and must be established at the European level as an infrastructure. ICOS is in the strategic roadmap for Europe in the field of Research Infrastructures (ESFRI).
The concept is a high precision long term network of stations measuring greenhouse gas fluxes from ecosystems and their concentration in the atmosphere, designed around a set of central facilities. The observations collected by ICOS will enable researchers to gain full understanding of the exchange of greenhouse gases over the European continent, and of its driving forces, using:
- Atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations of CO2, CH4, CO and radiocarbon-CO2 to quantify the fossil fuel component
- Ecosystem fluxes of CO2, CH4, H2O, and heat together with ecosystem variables needed to understand processes
- In parallel, a new strategy is developed for ocean flux observations to be integrated in the infrastructure by 2012.
The ICOS measurements will be combined using advanced carbon cycle models into an operational information system, to allow daily assessments of sources and sinks at scales down to about 10 km over European countries. This system will establish a world class standard for understanding the exchange processes between the atmosphere, the terrestrial surface and the ocean. The routine flux diagnostics will be generated both by research institutes members of ICOS, and by other institutes that will benefit from free access to the infrastructure data. Regular assessment and synthesis of the different flux products, and interaction with policy will be organized by ICOS.
The list of variables covered in ICOS is exactly that of GEOSS (Global Earth Observation System of Systems) recommended to ‘support the development of observational capabilities for Essential Climate Variables such as CO2, CH4 and other greenhouse gases’ according to the 10-years GEOSS implementation Plan. ICOS will also contribute to the WMO Global Atmosphere Watch program, to the Global Terrestrial Observing System (GTOS) and to the international Integrated Global Observing Strategy for Atmospheric Chemistry Observations (IGACO) and for Global Carbon Observations (IGCO) under the GEOSS umbrella.
ICOS will enable Europe to become a global player for in situ observations of greenhouse gases, data processing and user-friendly access to data products for validation of remote sensing products, scientific assessments, modeling and data assimilation.
The implementation of ICOS will take place in two steps:
During the Preparatory Phase starting in 2008 until 2013, the funding commitments are progressively endorsed by the governments and parent institutions, the building of the central facilities is initiated, and the project has benn technically developed up to the level of a demonstration year of full operation, with a reduced number of observational sites.
During the follow-up Operational Phase from 2014 until 2031, after the full scale deployment of the network, it will be run in an operational mode, and greenhouse gas concentrations and fluxes will be determined on a routine basis.
The ICOS preparatory phase includes 16 research laboratories and SMEs from 12 European countries.
|Core Partners||Organization name||Country|
|1 CEA - Coordinator||Commissariat à l'Energie Atomique||France|
|3 UNITUS||University of Tuscia||Italy|
|4 UHEI-IUP||University of Heidelberg||Germany|
|5 VUA||Vrije University Amsterdam||The Netherlands|
|6 UHEL||University of Helsinki||Finland|
|7 UEDIN||University of Edinburgh||United Kingdom|
|8 CNRS-INSU||Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique-Institut National des Sciences de l'Univers||France|
|9 ULUND||Lunds universitet||Sweden|
|10 RISEO||Forskningscenter Risø, Danmarks Tekniske Universitet||Denmark|
|11 SJ BERWIN||SJ Berwin LLP||Belgium|
|12 UA||Universiteit Antwerpen||Belgium|
|13 CEAM||Fundación Centro de Estudios Ambientales del Mediterraneo||Spain|
|14 ISBE||Ústav systémové biologie a ekologie AV CR, v.v.i.||Czech Republic|
|15 ETH Zurich||Eidgenoessische Technische Hochschule||Switzerland|
|16 INRA||Institut National de Recherche Agronomique||France|
The preparatory phase was initiated by 6 institutes which will form a network of contact points within each country (France, Finland, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, and United Kingdom). The preparatory proposal phase will be coordinated in France. Germany will develop the Central Analytic Laboratory (CAL), while Italy will organize the Ecosystem Thematic Center (ETC) and France will establish the Atmospheric Thematic Center (ATC). The United Kingdom and Finland will contribute to the development of sensors for flows on the ecosystems. The Netherlands will coordinate the studies of optimization of the network and definition of the schedule of conditions of the stations of reference.
These principal partners, along with the French Ministry of Research are joined by representatives from different institutes in six other countries (Sweden, Denmark, Belgium, Spain, Switzerland and the Czech Republic). Additional countries have already expressed their interest (Norway, Israel) and processes will be in place to add new members who will have the support of their country during the preparatory phase.
A certain number of international organizations have also expressed their interest and have provided letters of support for the preparatory phase and include:
|World Meteorological Organization (WMO)||Switzerland|
|National Institute For Environmental Studies (NIES)||Japan|
|National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)||USA|
|Integrated Global Atmospheric Composition Strategy (IGACO)||Switzerland|
|Integrated Global Carbon Observing Strategy IGCO||France, USA|
|Global Carbon Project (GCP) IGBP-WCRP-IHDP||Australia|
|Institut National de Recherche Agronomique (INRA)||France|
|Finnish Meteorological Institute (FMI)||Finland|
|Direction Générale de la Recherche et de l’Innovation (DGRI)||France|
|Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS)||France|
|Commissariat à l’Energie Atomique (CEA)||France|
|Ministerium für Wissenschaft, Forschung und Kunst Baden-Württemberg||Germany|
|Ministero dell’Ambiente e della Tutela del Territorio e del mare||Italy|
|Ministero dell’Universita e della Ricerca||Italy|
|Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NOW)||Netherlands|
|Finnish Ministry of Education||Finland|
|Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA)||UK|
|Swedish Research Council||Sweden|
|Spanish Ministry of Education and Science (MEC)||Spain|
|Research Foundation Flanders (FWO)||Flanders|
|Czech Science Foundation||Czech Republic|
|Danish Agency for Science||Denmark|
|Ministerio de Medio Ambiente||Spain|
|Research Council of Norway||Norway|
|National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Environment (ENEA)||Italy|
|Swiss Federal Office for the Environment||Switzerland|