Blinding Me With No Science. Trump Cancels Carbon Monitoring

May 10, 2018

An ultra-high-resolution NASA computer model has given scientists a stunning new look at how carbon dioxide in the atmosphere travels around the globe.


Crimes so grave we have no name for them.


You can’t manage what you don’t measure. The adage is especially relevant for climate-warming greenhouse gases, which are crucial to manage—and challenging to measure. In recent years, though, satellite and aircraft instruments have begun monitoring carbon dioxide and methane remotely, and NASA’s Carbon Monitoring System (CMS), a $10-million-a-year research line, has helped stitch together observations of sources and sinks into high-resolution models of the planet’s flows of carbon. Now, President Donald Trump’s administration has quietly killed the CMS, Science has learned.

The move jeopardizes plans to verify the national emission cuts agreed to in the Paris climate accords, says Kelly Sims Gallagher, director of Tufts University’s Center for International Environment and Resource Policy in Medford, Massachusetts. “If you cannot measure emissions reductions, you cannot be confident that countries are adhering to the agreement,” she says. Canceling the CMS “is a grave mistake,” she adds.

The White House has mounted a broad attack on climate science, repeatedly proposing cuts to NASA’s earth science budget, including the CMS, and cancellations of climate missions such as the Orbiting Carbon Observatory 3 (OCO-3). Although Congress fended off the budget and mission cuts, a spending deal signed in March made no mention of the CMS. That allowed the administration’s move to take effect, says Steve Cole, a NASA spokesperson in Washington, D.C. Cole says existing grants will be allowed to finish up, but no new research will be supported.


The agency declined to provide a reason for the cancellation beyond “budget constraints and higher priorities within the science budget.” But the CMS is an obvious target for the Trump administration because of its association with climate treaties and its work to help foreign nations understand their emissions, says Phil Duffy, president of the Woods Hole Research Center in Falmouth, Massachusetts. And, unlike the satellites that provide the data, the research line had no private contractor to lobby for it.

Many of the 65 projects supported by the CMS since 2010 focused on understanding the carbon locked up in forests. For example, the U.S. Forest Service has long operated the premier land-based global assessment of forest carbon, but the labor-intensive inventories of soil and timber did not extend to the remote interior of Alaska. With CMS financing, NASA scientists worked with the Forest Service to develop an aircraft-based laser imager to tally up forest carbon stocks. “They’ve now completed an inventory of forest carbon in Alaska at a fraction of the cost,” says George Hurtt, a carbon cycle researcher at the University of Maryland in College Park, who leads the CMS science team.

The program has also supported research to improve tropical forest carbon inventories. Many developing nations have been paid to prevent deforestation through mechanisms like the United Nations’s REDD+ program, which is focused on reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation . But the limited data and tools for monitoring tropical forest change often meant that claimed reductions were difficult to trust. Stephen Hagen, a senior scientist at Applied GeoSolutions in Newmarket, New Hampshire, was part of a team that with the Indonesian National Institute of Aeronautics and Space developed laser-mapping tools to automatically detect new roads and gaps in tropical forests, monitoring that helped the Indonesian government apply for REDD+ funding. The end of the CMS is disappointing and “means we’re going to be less capable of tracking changes in carbon,” Hagen says.

The CMS improved other carbon monitoring as well. It supported efforts by the city of Providence to combine multiple data sources into a picture of its greenhouse gas emissions, and identify ways to reduce them. It has tracked the dissolved carbon in the Mississippi River as it flows out into the ocean. And it has paid for researchers led by Daniel Jacob, an atmospheric chemist at Harvard University, to refine their satellite-based observations of methane.

It’s an ironic time to kill the program, Jacob says. NASA is planning several space-based carbon observatories, including the OCO-3, which is set to be mounted on the International Space Station later this year, and the Geostationary Carbon Cycle Observatory, due for launch early next decade. The CMS would help knit all these observations together. “It would be a total shame to wind [it] down,” Jacob says.

This type of research is likely to continue, Duffy adds, but leadership will pass to Europe, which already operates one carbon-monitoring satellite, with more on the way. “We really shoot ourselves in the foot if we let other people develop the technology,” he says, given how important the techniques will be in managing low-carbon economies in the future. Hurtt, meanwhile, holds out hope that NASA will restore the program. After all, he says, the problem isn’t going away. “The topic of climate mitigation and carbon monitoring is maybe not the highest priority now in the United States,” he says. “But it is almost everywhere else.”



25 Responses to “Blinding Me With No Science. Trump Cancels Carbon Monitoring”

  1. redskylite Says:

    We can see clearly from the NASA video that CO2 is a well mixed gas indeed, and what the Dumb Old Man says about trying to break the planet is profoundly true.

    Astronauts have had many an epiphany viewing Earth from space, we are indeed all extremely closely linked.

    We’e lived through Abbott in Australia, Harper in Canada, lets hope we can quickly get over Trump in U.S.A and get back to putting broken things right.

    Just waiting for the current administration to pass and see sanity return once again.

    ” Floating hundreds of miles above Earth, astronauts have an unparalleled and beautiful view of the planet.

    But that view also lets them look down on the devastating effects of climate change, wildfires, war, pollution, and other troubling human-caused activity.

    That’s why astronauts from around (and above) the world contributed to a 2015 video titled “Call to Earth,” which urged world leaders to take action ahead of the Paris Agreement.”

  2. grindupbaker Says:

    I’m still waiting for NOAA ORAP5 analysis plot to extend to March 31, 2018 (it’s quarterly). It still ends at December 31, 2017. I haven’t tracked it long enough to know their usual time to delivery. You might want to check whether this is always their turnover or some new “budget constraints” thing. It’s only the only actual measure (each quarter) of whether Earth’s ecosphere is gaining or losing heat, so no biggie at all to the topic. As you see:
    January 2015 – September 2016 ecosphere lost 50 zettajoules net to space (big El Nino)
    September 2016 – December 31, 2017 ecosphere gained 51 zettajoules

    So no change either way because I read accuracy is +/- 1.7 zettajoules

    January 1, 2018 – March 31, 2018 ??? Perhaps we’ll never know

    • grindupbaker Says:

      It’s been updated since my comment. Ocean gained 10 zettajoules January 1, 2018 – March 31, 2018 so Earth’s ecosphere has been warming a tad (not matching 2002-2012 the first 3 months this year.

  3. Sir Charles Says:

    Enjoy as long as data last…

    • J4Zonian Says:

      Cool graph. Thanks. For many people who don’t absorb visual information well, this might be the key that helps them get it.

      • Sir Charles Says:

        Every little helps.

      • dumboldguy Says:

        Uh, JeffY? Not sure what you’re talking about. The human brain processes images 60,000 times faster than text, and 90 percent of information transmitted to the brain is visual. As long as the visual display is clearly labelled and the viewer understands how graphs work (not too high a bar), everyone should “get it”.

        • Sir Charles Says:

          Not much text in the video above, but loads of images. Don’t you forget that sound is rather being perceived by the unconscious.

          Every little helps.

  4. James Geary Says:

    I’d like to say I’m surprised by all this but to be honest, I don’t know he’s killing federal climate initiatives by a thousand cuts rather than just axing the lot at this stage.

  5. redskylite Says:

    If you measure it you can manage it . . . As Climate Change looms we need to collect all the data that we can .

    Recent research shows the value of climate data collection and recommendations to manage.

    Thanks to satellite-derived precipitation data provided by NASA’s Global Precipitation Measurement and the internationally sponsored ARGO array of monitoring buoys, Authors, led by Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, say their new research has implications for hurricanes generally. “While hurricanes occur naturally, human-caused climate change is supercharging them and exacerbating the risk of major damage,”

    As Trenberth and his colleagues have shown, warming ocean waters are supercharging hurricanes, leading to more damage on land than would otherwise occur.

    With that in mind, we should be planning for stronger storms, with an eye toward making coastal communities more resilient through “better building codes, flood protection, and water management,” Trenberth says. We should also be preparing to deal better with loss of electrical supplies to communities, and for evacuating communities.

  6. […] Readers will know that the Trump administration was determined to cancel an important NASA program which monitors global carbon fluxe… […]

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