Maps revolutionize study of carbon dioxide emissions
April 7, 2008 7:03 PM   Subscribe

New maps show US fossil fuel emissions aren't where we thought they were. The Vulcan Project collects more accurate data at a higher resolution than previous studies. Explanatory video. via

Other visualizations of CO2 emissions include NASA forecasts and plots, CARMA, which monitors power plant emissions, and the European Space Agency, which uses high resolution spectrometer data (video download). This Australian PSA offers an entirely different kind of visualization.
posted by desjardins (25 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
There is an oil refinery in Norco, about 20 miles west of New Orleans. I live in Mandeville, about 30 miles north of New Orleans across Lake Pontchartrain. I commute to work on a trail of black balloons across that bridge every weekday.

It frequently happens that the oil refinery has its flare operating, venting waste gasses and burning them so that they will be less polluty than if vented in their unburned methany state. It frequently happens that I can see that flare from the north toll plaza of the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, nearly 40 miles away, not just as a point of light but as the brightest thing in the landscape beyond my own headlights. A pillar of flame over a hundred feet tall literally illuminates several hundred square miles brightly enough to read large type.

If they're throwing away that kind of energy, it really makes me wonder about the amount they're selling to paying customers.
posted by localroger at 7:13 PM on April 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

Yeah, having driven past similar refineries in Gary a number of times, it's occurred to me to wonder why they don't, say, run a turbine off those flames. I guess if it was cost-effective they'd be doing it, but it seems odd that they're not.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:21 PM on April 7, 2008

I don't quite understand the post. The final plot makes clear that CO2 emissions closely correlate to population density. Why is that a surprise? Where were you expecting them to be?
posted by Class Goat at 7:24 PM on April 7, 2008

"Previous CO2 estimates that used population as a proxy for emissions overestimated the Northeast's greenhouse-gas generation, while underestimating the coal-heavy Southeast's contribution."

"Total US fossil fuel CO2 emissions for 2002 come to 1506 million metric tonnes of carbon/year. This is slightly lower than Energy Information Estimates (1580 MtC/year) due to the missing nonroad and aircraft emissions in the Vulcan inventory (they are coming soon!)."

A graph of Vulcan Project vs EIA correlation. (r2 = 0.98)

The post here makes it sound like the Vulcan Project has come up with numbers that don't match up with EIA, but that isn't the case. The word "where" is ambiguous – I am pretty sure you meant "where" as in location, rather than "where" as in amount, desjardins, but I bet I wasn't the only one who was confused about it, so, I am just going to put these numbers here.
posted by blacklite at 7:32 PM on April 7, 2008

we did already know that the Dirty South gets your your coal and refines your oil, right?
posted by eustatic at 7:38 PM on April 7, 2008

I must me missing something, because it looks to me like the largest concentrations of emissions center around major cities. Anybody care to tell me the what I'm overlooking?
posted by lekvar at 7:49 PM on April 7, 2008

I'm going to go out on a limb here and posit that the single blood-red pixels sprinkled throughout the western states in this map are most likely giant coal-fired power plants, like the IPA plant in Delta, UT, which sends 75% of its power to southern California.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 7:50 PM on April 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

Is carbon dioxide a pollutant? I thought there was a big legal discussion about this recently.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:55 PM on April 7, 2008

Okay, so are we really supposed to be focusing on these images? They show that the model overwieghted the NE and CA emissions, and underestimates the TX-to-LA and Chicago-to-Pittsburg emissions, right? Intersting, yet very small adjustments to the model's order of magnitude, neh?
posted by FuManchu at 8:06 PM on April 7, 2008

(r2 = 0.98)

In other words, we're not arguing orders of magnitude, we're arguing Δ vs. Ε.

Sheesh and Furrfu.
posted by eriko at 8:16 PM on April 7, 2008

Pretty cool. The best thing about this is just being able to visualize what CO2 looks like. It's been said if CO2 was .. blue .. that everyone would see it coming out of tail pipes and there wouldn't be much public resistance to doing something about cleaning it up. When it's invisible it might as well not exist.
posted by stbalbach at 8:26 PM on April 7, 2008

Then everyone would see blue coming out of their mouth, and not much else

MetaZombies! We are pretty much there.
posted by Benway at 8:44 PM on April 7, 2008

What's going on in AZ at the UT border (Page?) and NM near Four Corners? There's big ugly CO2 sources there, but no big cities ... Coal power plants, I'm guessing ...
posted by intermod at 9:51 PM on April 7, 2008

I'm pleased and relieved to see that Canada has no CO2 emissions at all!
posted by five fresh fish at 10:23 PM on April 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

Intermod, those provide power to LA.
posted by Class Goat at 12:56 AM on April 8, 2008

It's interesting. But it's also exactly what I expected. In next week's revelatory instalment, how the US and Western Europe emit more than Mongolia and Antarctica.
posted by rhymer at 1:50 AM on April 8, 2008

I'm surprised Americans still flare methane: there was a piece in the Economist the other week about how Nigeria has just banned the practice at its wells because it's so wasteful and bad for the environment. Or maybe at refineries is different.

I'm a liberal arts major, can you tell?
posted by athenian at 2:04 AM on April 8, 2008

Intermod - right you are, Ken!
Four Corners
The five-unit, 2,040-megawatt Four Corners Power Plant, located on the Navajo Indian Reservation west of Farmington, New Mexico, is operated by APS. Fueled by low-sulfur coal from the nearby Navajo mine, the plant is owned by APS and five other utilities in the Southwest. APS' stake in Four Corners makes 782 megawatts of energy available to the APS system.

The Navajo Power Plant is located in northern Arizona on the Navajo Indian Reservation near Page, and features three 750-megawatt coal-fueled, steam-electric generating units. An electric railroad delivers coal to the plant from a mine on the Navajo and Hopi Indian Reservations at Black Mesa in northern Arizona.

The plant is operated by Salt River Project, and is owned by a partnership of five utility companies and the U. S. Bureau of Reclamation. APS owns 14 percent of the plant.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:42 AM on April 8, 2008

Those maps all have two Phoenixes.
posted by rlk at 6:21 AM on April 8, 2008

What's happening at "Four Corners"?
I've been through there many times, and really, there's nothing out there.
Except major co2, I guess.
posted by Balisong at 6:28 AM on April 8, 2008

The press release from Purdue explains what the Vulcan Project is doing better than the project itself. Essentially, earlier efforts used the correlation between population distribution and carbon dioxide emissions to map the emissions distribution.

However, the EPA measures carbon monoxide and nitrous oxide on an hourly basis (they are pre-cursors to ozone pollution events). Since CO and NOx concentrations are correlated with CO2 emissions, the Vulcan Project can track CO2 emissions at higher spatial and temporal resolutions than before.

This will provide a good basis for comparison once the Orbiting Carbon Observatory instrument is launched (scheduled for December 2008).
posted by plastic_animals at 12:02 PM on April 8, 2008

I'm not sure what is so "revolutionary" about this. If you overlay a night satellite image, it correlates pretty closely. That's pretty much where I thought the carbon was, turns out I was right.
posted by Pollomacho at 2:22 PM on April 8, 2008

There is an oil refinery in Norco


there is a town in NORCO, you mean.
posted by eustatic at 3:47 PM on April 8, 2008

are offshore rigs not counted in this? there's a whole other third of the state off Louisiana's gulf coast made of oil rigs and pipelines.
posted by eustatic at 3:49 PM on April 8, 2008

Kirth Gerson, thanks!

Balisong, scroll up.
posted by intermod at 5:42 AM on April 9, 2008

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