The concentration of carbon dioxide and other trace gases related to the greenhouse effect (greenhouse gases or GHGs) in the atmosphere is increasing because global biogeochemical cycles are being substantially disrupted by human activity. The climate changes caused by this increase represent a major challenge to mankind; hence climate policy measures have been introduced which attempt to reduce GHG emissions and thus mitigate the effects of climate change. Whether they are successful will, inter alia, depend on the continuous supply of new data and findings that cover biogeochemical processes and their interaction with climate and are able to confirm changes in GHG emissions by means of independent measurements.
The investments needed to achieve substantial GHG emission reductions and a limitation of global warming to 2 oC are massive and will require large changes in life-style and organization of the energy and food production and transport systems of the world. However, how much and how long the greenhouse gases remain in the atmosphere and how feedbacks of the Earth System due to climate change will influence this is very uncertain. This might result faster or slower reductions of the GHG concentrations in the atmosphere than anticipated and also lead to adapted target levels as time and our knowledge progresses. Societal costs may, therefore, be higher or lower than anticipated.
Precise, long-term and internationally comparable measurements are a key factor in improving our knowledge of the complex interactions between climate on the one hand and biosphere, hydrosphere and atmosphere on the other. They are the best investment for avoiding surprises and reducing uncertainties about what tomorrow holds.
The continuous, high quality and standardised measurements obtained by ICOS RI permit:
- the detection of systematic changes in GHG fluxes despite their high levels of internal variability,
- the reduction of uncertainties in forecasting models and mitigation scenarios,
- early warning of negative developments, and
- the timely introduction of adaptation measures and the evaluation of their success.