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Space Needle Carbon Monitors Pose New Research Possibilities

Space Needle Monitors
Stacy Maenner from PMEL's Carbon Group helps install a CO2 sensor on top of the Seattle Space Needle.

Seattle's iconic Space Needle routinely hosts sightseers, educational tours, even advertising messages. Now, it's also the site of a research project that could help design better ways to fight global warming. Scientists studying climate change typically measure carbon dioxide emissions away from cities. That's so they don't confuse local concentrations of the greenhouse gas with overall global levels. But a project that gauges CO2 from atop the Space Needle seeks to understand urban carbon emissions. Dr. Chris Sabine is with the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle. He says that could help policy-makers find out if their efforts to cut greenhouse gases are working.

"If the things that they are implementing really do make the difference that they propose," he says, "Then we should be able to see that in the atmosphere." For example, Sabine asks, what if King County decided to make buses free for a month "Y'know, would more people ride the bus and have fewer drivers on the road, and could we see that impact in the CO2 that we're measuring above the city?" Sabine suggests a region-wide network of carbon sensors in urban areas could help answer questions like that. Readings from the Space Needle have at times recorded carbon levels much higher than current global levels. Recently, they've also found levels in Seattle actually lower than those recorded at buoys off the Washington Coast. Researchers think that could reflect the carbon-absorbing impacts of vigorous summertime growth in region's forests.