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Proposal for the Dutch contribution to ICOS-EU: The ICOS-NL Carbon Tracking Center

The European ICOS infrastructure
ICOS is a European Infrastructure dedicated to high precision monitoring of greenhouse gas balances. It will provide policy makers and scientists with estimates of the fluxes of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide, and how these fluxes evolve due to policy measures, climate change, and changes in land use. Dedicated ICOS-EU "Central Facilities" were recently established to provide services for atmospheric greenhouse gas monitoring (France, Finland, Germany), ecosystem monitoring (Italy), and fossil fuel emissions monitoring (Germany). The Netherlands will contribute a Central Facility for the quantitative and objective collection, interpretation, and distribution of ICOS-EU greenhouse balance information.

We propose to establish a new ICOS-NL “Carbon Tracking Center” to provide the required expertise on data storage and exchange, high-performance computing, numerical modeling, observational techniques, and model-observation fusion. Expertise, research capacity, as well as policy and science relevant greenhouse balance products will be the core services to Europe. Ongoing cutting-edge Dutch research in these fields will support the tasks of the center. This facility will be unique in Europe.

The mission of ICOS-EU
ICOS-EU aims to provide the long-term observations required to understand the present state and to predict the future state of the global carbon cycle and greenhouse gas emissions. The ongoing and planned activities within ICOS-EU assess the effectiveness of carbon sequestration and greenhouse gases emission reduction activities on the global atmospheric composition. The ICOS activities are urgently required, both from a global perspective (possible degradation of high-latitude peat soils, and the impact of tropical deforestation) and from regional perspectives (verification of national bottom-up emission inventories and estimates of greenhouse gas exchanges with various ecosystem types).
In October 2006, the European Strategy Forum for Research Infrastructures (ESFRI) roadmap identified the ICOS Research Infrastructure as one of the vital new European Research Infrastructures for the next 20 years. ICOS was initiated by successful developments of the research tools and capacity building at the European level necessary to quantify and understand the sources and sinks of greenhouse gases at regional and continental scales, like CARBOEUROPE, NITROEUROPE, and CARBOOCEAN. ICOS contributes to the implementation of the Integrated Global Carbon Observation System (IGCO).

The importance of greenhouse gas balance estimates
Fossil fuel combustion, intensive farming, cement production, waste management, and rice production are examples of omnipresent human activities that lead to enhanced concentrations of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. Greenhouse gas concentrations will continue to increase in the 21st century and the cumulative effect on the radiative balance of the Earth compared to pre-industrial times will by 2100 be more than doubled compared to the current situation, if no effective measures are taken.

The ability of nations to implement policies that limit atmospheric CO2 and other GHG concentrations will depend on their ability to monitor progress and determine what is, and what is not working. Uncertainties in existing observations and analyses need to be reduced substantially to support effective national-level policies and international reporting on climate change mitigation.

For reporting purposes, policy makers require estimates of greenhouse emissions on country level scale. While the emissions of industrial stacks can be adequately monitored, large challenges exist in estimating more diffuse exchange ("fluxes"), like the exchange of CO2 with natural or perturbed ecosystems. It is expected that especially these natural ecosystems will respond to the anticipated climate change, and thereby feed back on atmospheric greenhouse gas levels. Examples are enhanced growth of forests due to fertilization, peat degradation due to melting permafrost, and reduced ocean CO2 uptake due to acidification. Monitoring the exchange is therefore an important prerequisite to improve our understanding of such feedbacks, and thereby of the future greenhouse gas balance.

How to obtain greenhouse gas balances?
Reliable greenhouse gas balance estimates can only be obtained by a combination of measurements and modeling. Measurements of atmospheric concentrations, the isotopic composition of gases, and of the surface exchange at ecosystem scales provide constraints for process-based models to predict global to regional carbon exchange. For more than a decade Dutch scientists play a key role in performing both high quality measurements (e.g. the CESAR infrastructure at Cabauw, and in the interpretation of these measurements by means of merging data with process models (e.g Also in the initiation of new space-based sensors and the interpretation of the new satellite measurements of greenhouse gas columns, Dutch scientists and industry (Dutch Space) play a leading role.

The current status
To date, efforts to monitor and report CO₂ and other GHG emissions have been based mostly on limited land-use observations, self-reported data on energy use, and extrapolated point-source emission measurements. Such data are known to have many uncertainties that limit their ability to support GHG management strategies. This presents a challenge to implementing the range of GHG policies that are being discussed in many countries. These policies include supporting treaty negotiations, verifying treaty obligations, certifying tradable permits, offsetting GHG emissions, and providing more accurate inventories of emissions and offsets. UN-level negotiations on the inclusion of land use activities in developing countries, for instance, have been held back for many reasons, including key technical challenges such as access to regular and sufficient-quality satellite data and associated analysis tools for national-level forest-cover and annual change mapping at sub-hectare resolution.

Determining the carbon balance of large regions is currently possible with the sparse in situ network. These estimates allow us understand processes operating at those large scales. Examples include the impact of forest fires (van der Werf 2008, Science), droughts (Ciais et al., 2005, Nature) on the global and regional scale carbon balance. The resolution of these estimates is tightly bound to the density of the network and prohibits at present further extrapolation to subregional scales (Ref).

The current observing network (Ciais, et al., 2011, GEO C-strategy) is focussed mostly on CO2 only, and on natural ecosystems. The knowledge of the carbon balance of agricultural crops is surprisingly poor and strongly focussed on harvest yield rather than carbon pools of vegetation and soils (e.g. Chen et al., 2011, GRL). Agricultural crop also have considerable emissions of non-CO2 GHGs such as CH4 and N2O, the importance of which has been shown by Schulze et al., 2010, Nature Geo).

Figures of projected resolution and knowledge increases
Future evolution of requirements toward finer resolution and precision capabilities for producing global maps of CO2 and CH4 surface fluxes

Where we need to go
To develop effective GHG management strategies, there is an urgent need for a globally integrated observation and analysis system to track changes in atmospheric GHGs and provide routine estimates (with confidence limits) of net atmosphere-surface exchange at regional or sub-regional scales. Figure 3 sketches a possible evolution of a carbon observing system. Key to this is that for increasing resolution increasing the volume and precision in the observations is required, hand-in-hand with developments of numerical techniques. The integrated monitoring system of the future would include CH4, CO2 and N2O exchange.

The complexity and variability of the natural carbon cycle combined with the effects of climate change on natural systems render this a great challenge. Beyond the essential knowledge of fluxes, information is also needed about drivers of fluxes in each region. In addition, quantification of carbon pools and their changes in response to human intervention and climate is key for making accurate future projections.

Unique opportunity for Dutch science
Within Europe, the new ICOS-NL Carbon Tracking Center will become responsible for the measurement-model merger that is needed for an objective, quantitative EU wide greenhouse gas balance assessment. This role can be fulfilled particularly well by the Netherlands as national research themes have covered the most important components needed for such an assessment. This includes (a) performing atmospheric concentration and local flux measurements with state-of-the art instruments, and (b) simulating transport and mixing of trace gases in the atmosphere, and (c) modeling ecosystem health and functioning.

With respect to (a), highest quality atmospheric and ecosystem measurements are currently taken at several locations in the Netherlands. Within ICOS-EU, Dutch scientists will continue to perform these measurements according to the highest standards prescribed by ICOS-EU and thereby support the model-data fusion. For aspect (b) Dutch scientists play a key role in atmospheric transport model development, and the Dutch school of planetary boundary layer research developed through several institutes (KNMI, WU, IMAU, Delft) is world-renowned since the 1980’s. For (c), the prediction of concentrations of greenhouse gas concentrations in e.g. 2100 requires knowledge about ecosystem behavior and the atmospheric oxidation capacity. This knowledge in currently integrated by Dutch scientists in the new climate model EC-EARTH.

The core tasks of the Carbon Tracking Center

Integrated monitoring at the European scale requires a dense network of world-class observations, substantial computer resources, and a team of scientists, scientific programmers, and software developers to be successful. Quick and transparent access to the many streams of data must be facilitated, and operational efforts must co-exist with research and development of the system. The latter requires a well defined testing environment where new observations, new constraints, new scenarios, and new modeling components can quickly be assessed. Clearly, not every country in the EU can independently build and maintain this capacity for data assimilation. Within ICOS-NL, we aim to build this capacity through the ICOS-NL Carbon Tracking Center and offer it as a service to Europe. In summary, the CTC will:

  1. Build and host an ICOS-EU Enterprise Service Bus (ESB) that enables seamless exchange of observational data, modeling I/O, and Carbon Tracking products between partners, public, and policy makers.
  2. Make the ESB available to all ICOS-EU researcher that want to use its functionality, provide their data, access data, or contribute their greenhouse balance products to the Carbon Tracking Center
  3. Host a state-of-the-art ICOS-NL data assimilation system that can be used by all members
  4. Operationally produce multiyear greenhouse gas balances that are country and process specific and include uncertainties
  5. Deliver the source code, computing facilities, and expertise needed by others who want to contribute under an open source license
  6. Assist the development of data assimilation systems by maintaining a research and testing environment for relevant numerical models.
Figures of an ESB design for ICOS-EU
Diagram showing the new ICOS-NL Carbon Tracking Center and the services connected to it (purple colors). The CTC will be a Central Facility within ICOS-EU (blue colors) and provide services for all ICOS-EU centers, as well as other EU projects related to greenhouse gas monitoring (yellow). External data providers and data users will be integrated through the Enterprise Service Bus, which provides seamless data exchange between all partners.
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