Articles | Volume 16, issue 15
Research article
02 Aug 2016
Research article |  | 02 Aug 2016

Tracking city CO2 emissions from space using a high-resolution inverse modelling approach: a case study for Berlin, Germany

Dhanyalekshmi Pillai, Michael Buchwitz, Christoph Gerbig, Thomas Koch, Maximilian Reuter, Heinrich Bovensmann, Julia Marshall, and John P. Burrows

Abstract. Currently, 52 % of the world's population resides in urban areas and as a consequence, approximately 70 % of fossil fuel emissions of CO2 arise from cities. This fact, in combination with large uncertainties associated with quantifying urban emissions due to lack of appropriate measurements, makes it crucial to obtain new measurements useful to identify and quantify urban emissions. This is required, for example, for the assessment of emission mitigation strategies and their effectiveness. Here, we investigate the potential of a satellite mission like Carbon Monitoring Satellite (CarbonSat) which was proposed to the European Space Agency (ESA) to retrieve the city emissions globally, taking into account a realistic description of the expected retrieval errors, the spatiotemporal distribution of CO2 fluxes, and atmospheric transport. To achieve this, we use (i) a high-resolution modelling framework consisting of the Weather Research Forecasting model with a greenhouse gas module (WRF-GHG), which is used to simulate the atmospheric observations of column-averaged CO2 dry air mole fractions (XCO2), and (ii) a Bayesian inversion method to derive anthropogenic CO2 emissions and their errors from the CarbonSat XCO2 observations. We focus our analysis on Berlin, Germany using CarbonSat's cloud-free overpasses for 1 reference year. The dense (wide swath) CarbonSat simulated observations with high spatial resolution (approximately 2 km  ×  2 km) permits one to map the city CO2 emission plume with a peak enhancement of typically 0.8–1.35 ppm relative to the background. By performing a Bayesian inversion, it is shown that the random error (RE) of the retrieved Berlin CO2 emission for a single overpass is typically less than 8–10 Mt CO2 yr−1 (about 15–20 % of the total city emission). The range of systematic errors (SEs) of the retrieved fluxes due to various sources of error (measurement, modelling, and inventories) is also quantified. Depending on the assumptions made, the SE is less than about 6–10 Mt CO2 yr−1 for most cases. We find that in particular systematic modelling-related errors can be quite high during the summer months due to substantial XCO2 variations caused by biogenic CO2 fluxes at and around the target region. When making the extreme worst-case assumption that biospheric XCO2 variations cannot be modelled at all (which is overly pessimistic), the SE of the retrieved emission is found to be larger than 10 Mt CO2 yr−1 for about half of the sufficiently cloud-free overpasses, and for some of the overpasses we found that SE may even be on the order of magnitude of the anthropogenic emission. This indicates that biogenic XCO2 variations cannot be neglected but must be considered during forward and/or inverse modelling. Overall, we conclude that a satellite mission such as CarbonSat has high potential to obtain city-scale CO2 emissions as needed to enhance our current understanding of anthropogenic carbon fluxes, and that CarbonSat-like satellites should be an important component of a future global carbon emission monitoring system.

Short summary
Approximately 70 % of total CO2 emissions arise from cities; however, there exist large uncertainties in quantifying urban emissions. The present study investigates the potential of a satellite mission like CarbonSat to retrieve the city emissions via inverse modelling techniques. The study makes a valid conclusion that an instrument like CarbonSat has high potential to provide important information on city emissions when exploiting the observations using a high-resolution modelling system.
Final-revised paper