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Novel Measurements of Carbon, CO2, and Trace Greenhouse Gas Constituents of Terrestrial and Atmospheric Media


Improved measurement technology is needed to better characterize processes involving carbon transformations of soil, vegetation, and associated
ecosystem components and exchanges with the atmosphere. Particular areas of interest include high resolution measurements of soil carbon/organic matter – i.e., the carbon content of biological tissues in various components (e.g., phytomass, detritus) of terrestrial ecosystems; improved measurement technology for atmospheric CO2 and its isotopes; and high accuracy and precision measurement of other trace greenhouse gases. Requests for specific grant applications are described in items (1) to (4) below:

(1) For determining the carbon content of biota and soil, grant applications are sought to develop and demonstrate measurement technology for estimating changes of carbon quantities and/or fluxes involving major components of ecosystems, with an accuracy on the order of 10 grams per square meter or less. Quantification of spatially resolved aggregate estimates of terrestrial carbon changes should have an accuracy of 10 to 25 g/m2/yr (or approximately 0.25 tonnes of carbon per hectare per year), with less than 25 percent uncertainty.

(2) Grant applications are sought to design and demonstrate a new CO2 analyzer that (a) can determine the mole fraction of CO2 in dry ambient air to a relative precision of 1 part in 3000 or better, in one minute or less; (b) operates with small amounts of gas (30 cc/min or less) to minimize problems due to water vapor and to minimize consumption of reference gases, if employed; (c) is robust enough for unattended field deployment for periods of half a year or
longer; (d) costs less than $5000 when manufactured in quantity; and (e) is not sensitive to motion.

(3) Grant applications are sought to develop lightweight sensors (approximately 100 grams) for measuring atmospheric CO2. The sensors must be capable of measuring fluctuations of CO2 in air of the order of plus or minus 1 ppm, in a background of 370 ppm. The devices must be suitable for launch on ballonsondes or similar platforms, and therefore must be insensitive to large changes in ambient temperature and pressure. The devices also must be able to operate on low power (e.g., 9v battery) and have a response time of less than 30 seconds.

(4) Grant applications are sought to develop new technology platforms that can be used to measure fluxes and/or concentrations of important trace greenhouse gas constituents, as well as the isotopes of carbon, methane, CO, and other trace species. Instrument designs should (a) place emphasis on determining the sources and sinks of carbon, CO, and trace species, and (b) ensure long-term and robust field deployment. Grant applications dealing with the remote measurement of vascular plant properties and processes will be considered, provided that they meet the requirements described below.

In general, new technology for measuring terrestrial biota and soil must be accomplished by in situ and/or non-invasive means, across a range of temporal scales (from seconds to days) and spatial scales (from millimeters to kilometers), depending on the system properties being observed. The remote sensing of organic carbon is also of interest – the term "remote sensing" means that the observation method is physically separated from the object of interest. All instruments must be portable and deployable in remote locations, and must not adversely impact the site of deployment. Two other approaches are also of interest: (1) the development of unique surface-based observations that are used for the calibration/interpretation of other remotely derived data; and (2) potential applications of CO2 sensors via balloon sonde – however, remote sensing data acquisition by airborne or satellite platforms will not be considered.

Questions – contact Rick Petty,

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