After Four Years, NASA Arctic Carbon Flights Concluded

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A major project to measure carbon emissions over the Arctic has ended and now it is time to crunch the data.

On Nov. 12 of this year, NASA's Carbon in Arctic Reservoirs Vulnerability Experiment (CARVE) completed its final aircraft flight. During its four-year campaign, CARVE accumulated more than 1,000 science flight hours of measurements over Alaska, collecting data on important greenhouse gases during seven to eight months of each year.

The permafrost (perennially frozen) and peat soils of Arctic and boreal (northern region) ecosystems are the single largest reservoir of terrestrial carbon, containing twice as much carbon as is currently present in the atmosphere. As Arctic soils thaw and fires proliferate due to global warming, accentuated at high latitudes, the risk that the carbon will be released to the atmosphere continues to increase. CARVE collected detailed measurements of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and methane over every Alaskan Arctic and boreal ecosystem.

The end of such a long mission is bittersweet, says Principal Investigator Charles Miller of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. "We've made lots of friends in Alaska. After four years, it's almost like another university education." The team has been making preliminary data available after each year's campaign, and now, Miller says, "We have a few months to make sure we've got all data calibrated, analyzed and quality controlled to the best of our ability, and then it will go to the terrestrial ecology Distributed Active Archive Center at Oak Ridge [National Laboratory, Tennessee>." In spring 2016, all four years of data and the team's supporting analysis and modeling results will be posted and freely available to interested users.

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