Air Monitoring

Can We Measure Carbon's Impact on the Environment?

Jan 03 2015 Comments 0

A collaborative project between the University of Alberta and American Multinational Technology and consulting corporation IBM has announced that is it using advanced streaming analytics software from environmental sensors to equip researchers with real-time information to identify, visualise and forecast subtle changes in the environment.

Working with IBM’s T.J. Watson Laboratory, the University of Alberta's integrated software has slashed the time it takes for researchers to analyse data from months to minutes. By using this new technology, researchers and policy makers will be able to make informed predictions of environmental events such as droughts and forest fires, and apply accurate insight to predict how boreal and forest ecosystems return following disturbances and deforestation.

Providing real-time analysis for more than 10,00 data points per second, the sensors currently measure carbon levels, temperature, humidity, atmospheric pressure, soil moisture, and ambient noise in forests across Australia, Brazil, Canada, Costa Rica, and Mexico.

What does this new technology mean for the future of carbon measuring?

Leading the project is Dr. Arturo Sanchez-Azofeifa from the University of Alberta's Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. Alongside students at the University, Dr. Sanchez-Azofeifa will be working with IBM to produce a simplified 'dashboard' for the software to make the carbon-measuring data easier to analyse and share.

Dr. Sanchez-Azofeifa and Bernie Kollman,  IBM’s vice-president, Public Sector Alberta, both believe that the real-time information provided by the technology will hugely impact the future of carbon measuring, enabling researchers and policy makers to monitor climate change and protect the world’s most remote and vulnerable ecosystems. The speed of the technology was demonstrated at the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change Conference of the Parties in Lima, Peru in November.

“When I started this project four years ago, I had no idea how much data I would be generating, and we could not look at our data in a reasonable amount of time. It was taking something like six months to two years before we had usable insights,” said Dr Sanchez-Azofeifa. “Now, we can basically ‘see’ the forests breathing in real time."

“Right now, there is an enormous amount of critical data produced by environmental monitors,” said Bernie Kollman. “The ability to quickly analyze that data and make informed decisions will have implications for us here in Alberta as researchers study the impact of oil sands extraction efforts. It will also help other policy makers around the world support environmental stewardship.”

So what will be the effect of the additional CO2 in the atmosphere? The atmosphere is not an independent entity - it interacts with the oceans, terrestrial biosphere, land surfaces to name but a few. In this article, Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Monitoring Close to a Coal-Fired Power Plant and a Cement Factory, we look at the answers to this question in detail.

More from IBM…

Recently, a team of US researchers in partnership with IBM have unveiled a new computer chip which promises to significantly close the gap between computers and biological systems. You can read more about it in this news story: Landmark ‘Brain-Inspired’ Computer Chip Unveiled

Image Source: Autumn sugar beet processing
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