The Trump administration has quietly defunded NASA’s US$10-million-per-year Carbon Monitoring System, a network of satellite- and aircraft-mounted instruments that provides remote monitoring for atmospheric carbon dioxide and methane.
The CMS “has helped stitch together observations of sources and sinks into high-resolution models of the planet’s flows of carbon,” Science Magazine reports. Now, the White House decision “jeopardizes plans to verify the national emission cuts agreed to in the Paris climate accords.”
“If you cannot measure emissions reductions, you cannot be confident that countries are adhering to the agreement,” said Kelly Sims Gallagher, director of Tufts University’s Center for International Environment and Resource Policy in Medford, Massachusetts. She called the cutback “a grave mistake”.
Science Magazine notes that Trump officials have repeatedly proposed cuts to NASA’s climate programs. “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.” Woods Hole Research Center President Phil Duffy said the CMS was an obvious target for the administration given its role in international climate treaties, and in bilateral climate cooperation between the U.S. and other countries.
Science Magazine details some of the 65 CMS projects related to carbon storage in forests, tropical forest carbon inventories, and carbon and methane monitoring. Duffy said the research will likely continue, but with the U.S. stepping back, Europe will step up. “We really shoot ourselves in the foot if we let other people develop the technology,” he said.
A NASA spokesperson said not all of the agency’s carbon monitoring capability will be lost with the CMS dismantled. “The winding down of this specific research program does not curb NASA’s ability or commitment to monitoring carbon and its effects on our changing planet,” Steve Cole told the BBC.
University of Maryland carbon cycle researcher George Hurtt held out hope that the program will eventually be reinstated. “The topic of climate mitigation and carbon monitoring is maybe not the highest priority now in the United States,” he said. “But it is almost everywhere else.”