Greenhouse gases

ICOS Research Infrastructure provides long-term, continuous observations of concentrations and fluxes of the greenhouse gases (GHGs) carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and water vapour. One of the benefits of this activity is that it permits evaluating GHGs emissions and their regional dynamics, and thus the efficiency of the mitigation activities against climate change
measurement equiptments

Climate change is likely one of the most challenging problems that humanity will have to face within the coming decades. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has concluded that the observed rise of global temperatures are extremely likely due to increasing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

According to IPCC, atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide are unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years. The major contributors to the increasing emissions have been the human activities. Anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions have increased since the pre-industrial era and are now higher than ever.

Long-term observations of the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and their regional dynamics provided by ICOS Research Infrastructure (ICOS RI) will enable the evaluation of the mitigation activities against climate change. With ICOS data it is possible to monitor how the society has succeeded in reducing its greenhouse emissions and they are regionally distributed. With its data, ICOS RI will contribute to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and to Kyoto Protocol, which require the monitoring of essential climate variables and providing emission inventories.

Natural and synthetic greenhouse gases

Many GHGs occur naturally in the atmosphere, such as water vapour, carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide, while others are synthetic, man-made. The latter include for example chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and perfluorocarbons (PFCs), as well as sulfur hexafluoride (SF6). Human activities increase atmospheric concentrations of both natural and synthetic GHGs. GHGs remain in the atmosphere for different amounts of time and some of them are more effective than others at warming the atmosphere.

Enhanced greenhouse effect

The greenhouse effect is a natural process without which the average temperature on Earth would be about -18 °C instead of the current about 15 °C.

Human activities are increasing the concentrations of GHGs, mainly through the fossil fuel combustion and modifications of global vegetation over land use change, in particular deforestation. This influences the global energy budget by enhancing the greenhouse effect and thus contributes to the climate change. The extra heat from the greenhouse enhancement drives climate change by, for example, modifying weather patterns that, in turn, have an impact on the ecosystems.

One of the ways to compare the different GHGs is by the so-called Global Warming potential (GWP), which is the warming potential of a GHG compared to CO2 over a defined time period (e.g. over 100 years). GWP depends for every gas species on its atmospheric lifetime and the absorption characteristics of infrared radiation.