Hartmut Boesch

  • Tuesday 20 March 2018
  • 5.30pm-6.30pm
  • Ken Edwards Building, Lecture Theatre 1

Watching the Earth Breath – Measuring the Greenhouse Gas Exchange from Space

Carbon is a fundamental constituent of life. Its global cycle is tightly connected to the habitability of our planet and the greenhouse effect of CO2 is crucial for keeping our planet at the right temperature. On geological timescales, atmospheric CO2 levels have varied considerable caused by long-term shifts in the balance of sources and sinks. For example, volcanism was much greater a 100 million years ago, and so this is why carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere were much higher which has produced a much warmer climate. On shorter time scales, we find a multitude of processes that exchange carbon in vast amounts between the atmosphere, oceans, vegetation and soils. Many of these processes will either slow or accelerate the growth of greenhouse-gas levels in response to warming, and thus can cause a positive or negative feedback.

With the beginning of the industrial area, we have seen a significant alteration of the carbon pathways due to human activities such as fossil-fuel combustion and deforestation. We have now added more than 40 billion tons of CO2 to the atmosphere which has resulted in an increase of about 40% of the atmospheric CO2 levels. Human activities have also led to an increase in many other greenhouse gases. For example, methane concentrations have increased by a factor of 2.5 since the pre-industrial time largely due to an intensification of agriculture.

One of the key science challenges that we are faced with is how can we monitor the cycling of carbon in this complex system involving many pools and processes and its interplay with climate and human interference. In recent years, we have seen the emerging of the first satellites dedicated to observing greenhouse gases which have provided us with an unprecedented global view on the distribution of atmospheric greenhouse gases from space. These satellite datasets when combined with models are an invaluable resource for diagnosing the regional carbon exchange that will fundamentally advance our understanding of the global carbon cycle and the involved mechanisms. At the COP-21 in Paris in 2015, the need for a supporting tool to assess international climate commitments on CO2 emissions has become evident, and we are now moving towards an operational, space-based systems that will provide information on CO2 emission on a national scale relevant for policy makers and governments.

In my presentation, I will discuss the journey from the early beginnings of greenhouse gas remote sensing from space towards future satellite constellations for CO2 emission monitoring, which, along the way, had seen failures, disappointments, unexpected twists and great success stories.

hartmut 200 x 266.jpgProfessor Hartmut Boesch

Professor Hartmut Boesch’s academic life started at the Universities of Tuebingen and Heidelberg in Germany where he persuit a degree in physics and astronomy. It was in Heidelberg where he became interest in the physics of the environment and, after finishing his degree, he began a PhD at the Institute of Environmental Physics directed by Professor Platt; one of the pioneers of the Differential Optical Absorption Spectroscopy DOAS method. His Phd research was in the Group of Professor Pfeilsticker researching stratospheric ozone chemistry from remote-sensing DOAS instruments on-board large stratospheric balloons. Beyond exciting research opportunities on the importance of halogen and nitrogen chemistry, this involved field campaigns beyond the Arctic Circle and some first-hand experience in taking data in a harsh environment.

After a short spell as a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute of Environmental Physics, he took a position as a postdoctoral researcher and later on as a staff scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory JPL to work on the Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO) satellite mission; NASA’s dedicated CO2 satellite mission. After 3.5 years of enjoying the Californian sun, he joined the Earth Observation Science (EOS) Group at the University of Leicester on a 5 year RCUK fellowship to establish his independent research career with a focus on carbon cycle science, and after successful completion of his fellowship, he became a Lecturer in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. He is now the Head of the EOS Science Group, a co-director for the Leicester Institute for Space and Earth Observation and a divisional director for the UK National Centre for Earth Observation NCEO. He is involved in many international satellite missions with a focus on greenhouse gases including from NASA, Japan and China and he is an active member of mission teams developing European missions for ESA and as a bilateral mission between the UK and France.

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