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Conquering Global Warming: Contributing to the GEO Global Carbon Project
JAXA’s Earth Observation Satellite Highly Praised Worldwide Osamu Ochiai Associate Senior Administrator of Satellite Applications and Promotion Center, JAXA Space Applications Mission Directorate

Providing useful information on global warming

Q. What kind of organization is the Group on Earth Observations (GEO)?

Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission TRMM
Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission TRMM

GEO is an intergovernmental organization that is aiming to build the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), which was approved at the third Earth Observation Summit in 2005. As of November 2010, 85 countries and 61 international organizations, such as the European Commission and the World Meteorological Organization had joined GEO.
GEOSS is an effort to make global-scale Earth observations in nine societal benefit areas: disasters, health, energy, weather, water, climate, ecosystems, agriculture, and biodiversity. Its aim is to observe the Earth in a comprehensive manner from space, from airplanes, on the ground and from oceans, and to integrate all the data in order to provide detailed and accurate scientific information to policymakers. GEOSS is currently at the mid-point of its 10-year implementation plan.
JAXA is contributing to GEOSS by sharing data from its Earth observation satellites. Our Advanced Land Observing Satellite DAICHI, Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite IBUKI, and Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) are showing successful results in the fields of disaster management, weather and water.

Q. What kind of program is GEO’s Carbon Project?

GEO encourages participating countries to follow the GEOSS implementation plan, which consists of 241 goals to be achieved at the 2-, 6- and 10-year marks. The Carbon Project is one of those, in the area of climate change. It aims to research the current state of global carbon circulation through observations from satellites and ground facilities. Japan, led by JAXA, is collaborating on this project with the United States and European countries.
The Carbon Project has three elements:

  • to observe and monitor forest and carbon from satellites and from ground observation stations
  • to take advantage of international synergies to observe greenhouse gases from space using satellites
  • to establish international cooperation between scientists, and to coordinate observations according to the needs of users such as policymakers.

We are working on identifying the users’ future needs, in order to reflect these in the plan. These include observation targets and methods, sensor resolution and frequency, and data processing and analysis technology.

High hopes for DAICHI and IBUKI

Q. How does JAXA contribute to GEO’s Carbon Project?

Advanced Land Observing Satellite DAICHI
Advanced Land Observing Satellite DAICHI
Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite IBUKI
Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite IBUKI

JAXA is involved in two elements of the GEO Carbon Project: Global Monitoring of Greenhouse Gases from Space, and Forest Carbon Tracking.
IBUKI is expected to contribute to Global Monitoring of Greenhouse Gases from Space. One of its features is the ability to measure carbon dioxide and methane on a global scale within three days, if the observed areas are not covered by clouds. So we expect that once we complete further verification of its performance, IBUKI will provide valuable data for this project.
DAICHI provides observation data for the Forest Carbon Tracking project. More specifically, in 2009 DAICHI created a classification image of the forest and non-forest areas of the globe with 10-meter resolution. It was the first satellite in the world to image all the forests of the Earth with such high resolution. Forests are crucial to curbing global warming because they absorb carbon dioxide. By measuring the world’s forest cover, we can find out how much carbon dioxide can be stored in forests, and this becomes very important when we think about global warming.
DAICHI is one of several satellites monitoring the world’s forests. These include the European Space Agency’s Envisat and others. We are working on verifying the consistency of the data from all these satellites by observing the same locations at the same time. We have reported these observation results to organizations such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC.) Q. What kind of expectations do GEO members have of JAXA? Expectations are growing for data from JAXA’s satellites. In particular, DAICHI and IBUKI are highly rated by many GEO participating countries and organizations.
DAICHI not only contributes to climate studies through Forest Carbon Tracking; it has also been providing large amounts of data on natural disasters to the Sentinel Asia program, which monitors disasters in the Asia-Pacific area, and the International Disaster Charter, which performs global disaster monitoring. We also expect DAICHI to contribute to GEO’s work on ecosystems, agriculture and biodiversity. For example, just last fall a cooperation agreement was signed to use DAICHI for wetland research. Its data will be used in biodiversity research on birds that make their habitat in wetlands.
As for IBUKI, many requests are coming in from all over the world to use its data for climate change research and other projects.

Using these results for the next Japanese satellite program

Q. What are the benefits of the GEO Carbon Project?

GEO ministerial summit, Beijing, November 2010
GEO ministerial summit, Beijing, November 2010

The results from the GEO project will benefit the Japanese satellite program in the future. JAXA has plans to launch satellites such as the Global Change Observation Mission (GCOM), the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM), and the Earth Clouds, Aerosols and Radiation Explorer (EarthCARE). I think our experience and achievements with DAICHI and IBUKI will help these projects. To secure our budget, I think it is important for us to achieve positive results.
Since we are building links with other countries through GEO, I think it will be easier for us to cooperate internationally on future satellite projects. For instance, right now we have a big dilemma: what to do with the successor to IBUKI. At last year’s GEO ministerial summit in Beijing, there were discussions on future plans, including satellites being developed by other organizations. So now JAXA is negotiating with NASA and the ESA to coordinate plans for future carbon observation satellites. The negotiations will continue for a while, but I think such coordination is also a result of our participation in the GEO project.
And on top of that, I think it’s important, as an active member of the international community, to participate in political decisions on greenhouse gas reduction through GEO.

Q. In the future, what kind of efforts do you think are needed for the Carbon Project?

GEO’s current challenge is to convince the UNFCCC and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change of the importance accumulated observation data. Climate change is a very big social issue now, so the Carbon Project is very important to GEO.
For Forest Carbon Tracking, we will need data in 10-year units as it becomes important to collect longitudinal data on climate change associated with forest changes. Thus it is very important to continue these observations. But it is hard to continue this work using only one country’s satellites, so international cooperation is indispensable. GEO itself doesn’t have the budget, so its policy is that participating countries should "carry out projects within their own capacity." So currently we are forced to just perform demonstrations, without continuity. It is hard to maintain the project on a voluntary basis while depending on the enthusiasm of participating countries and organizations. Thus, we will need other secure funds, and an international framework with continuity, in order to continue this research, not only from the Carbon Project but also from GEO as a whole.

Q. How does JAXA want to contribute to the GEO Carbon Project in the future?

JAXA wants to continue to contribute to GEO in the future. Specifically, we would like to provide more data in the areas of disasters, climate and water. If you want people to use new data in a wide range of areas, first of all, you have to make it easy - to lower the barriers to entry. The data provider needs to provide support to the users. I think this is true for any kind of service. Unfortunately, in my personal opinion, I think JAXA’s satellite data hasn’t yet reached a stage where it is widely utilized. By making our Earth observation data freely available and encouraging its use, I think we can make it the international standard not just for GEO but for broader use as well.
Climate change is a big issue at the moment, so we would like to continue to perform forest monitoring and greenhouse gas observations using DAICHI and IBUKI to create positive results.

Osamu Ochiai
Associate Senior Administrator of Satellite Applications and Promotion Center, JAXA Space Applications Mission Directorate
Mr. Ochiai completed a master’s degree at the Graduate School of Environmental Science, Hokkaido University in 1994. At university he studied geophysics (meteorology). After graduation, he joined NASDA (former JAXA), and was involved in developing the data information service system for several Earth observation satellite missions, including the Advanced Earth Observing Satellite-II (Midori II) and the Advanced Land Observing Satellite DAICHI. In 2006, he was temporarily posted to the head office of the Group on Earth Observations as a architecture and data management expert for the Global Earth Observation System of Systems. He has been in his current position since 2009.

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