Research into CO2 concentrations in the air makes climate predictions more accurate
Wouter Peters becomes professor of Carbon cycle research and atmospheric composition at Wageningen University.
Carbon Dioxide, often simply referred to as CO2, is a potent greenhouse gas. The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is rapidly increasing. This increase not only causes climate change, but also the acidification of the oceans. With his ‘Carbon Tracker’, Wouter Peters is working on expanding our understanding of CO2 absorption and emissions, to more accurately predict how fast climate is changing. ‘A variation of ten years more or less in which to prepare ourselves for drastic climate change can mean the difference between the construction of climate-resilient cities or the displacement of hundreds of thousands of climate change refugees,’ states Peters. Today, he will be presenting his inaugural lecture as Professor of Carbon cycle research and atmospheric composition at Wageningen University.
CO₂ emissions are caused almost exclusively by human activities. Growing plants and forests absorb CO₂, but we do not know the extent of their ability for absorption in the future. This is because these plants and trees will also respond to changes in the climate. Current predictions anticipate that the Netherlands will experience more rainfall during the winter months but less during the summer which is when the trees are growing and need it most. We can also expect longer-lasting and more intense heatwaves that will deplete the water reserves in the soil.
One of the most important products from Peters’ group is the Carbon Tracker: a system that tracks the exchange of CO₂ at the surface through atmospheric measurements. Carbon Tracker integrates knowledge from Wageningen University about the natural carbon cycle and uses atmospheric models, hydrological knowledge and plant and crop growth models. Carbon Tracker is one the very first open source models used in carbon cycle research. It is rare for scientists across the world to share and integrate measurements in a single system. The insight that these measurements give into the carbon cycle means that models about the absorption and emission of CO2 are constantly refined and adjusted. This allows predictions about climate change that are based on this knowledge to become more accurate.
Carbon cycle research depends on long-term, accurate measurements of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. ‘Dr David Keeling started recording atmospheric CO₂ in 1957 without realising how important this data would become in providing answers to the important issues that we are facing today,’ states Peters. One of the biggest challenges for his chair is to keep taking accurate CO2 measurements, not just in the Netherlands but also in the Brazilian rainforest. Peters explains, ‘Our only chance to measure the atmosphere in 2016 is right now. It is the responsibility of our generation to seize this opportunity.’