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article imageGreenhouse gas data goes online for public scrutiny Special

By Kimberley Pollock     Jun 20, 2011 in Environment
Australia’s chief scientific organisation has released a new website that provides easy access to the levels of greenhouse gases measured in the Southern Hemisphere atmosphere for the past 35 years.
Leader of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation’s (CSIRO) Changing Atmosphere Research Group, Dr Paul Fraser launched the new website to the media at an online news briefing earlier today.
Dr Fraser and the CSIRO team have been analysing atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations for more than 35 years and said it is important to ensure that the community at large has access to “no strings attached” and “no interpretation” greenhouse gas data that clearly illustrates the impact of human activities on the atmosphere.
The new website has been designed to be easy to use and provides direct access to CSIRO and Bureau of Meteorology measured greenhouse gas concentrations from the Cape Grim Station on Tasmania’s west coast. The data will be updated monthly.
According to Dr Fraser there are 15 sites around the world collecting greenhouse gas data and that the Cape Grim measurements were particularly important because, under baseline conditions, it experiences some of the cleanest air in the world and that this provides an accurate reflection of global changes in greenhouse gases.
Cape Grim is one of the three premier Baseline Air Pollution Stations in the World Meteorological Organization-Global Atmosphere Watch (WMO-GAW) network. The Cape Grim Station has been monitoring southern hemispheric air since 1976 and in the Northern Hemisphere, the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii has been continuously monitoring and collecting data related to atmospheric change since the 1950s.
Since sampling began at Cape Grim, more than 3 billion measurements have been taken. Among these are measurements of greenhouse gases (GHGs), including carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O) and synthetic GHGs such as hydro-fluorocarbons (HFCs), per-fluorocarbons (PFCs) and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6).
Much of the Cape Grim data is now available in its raw form via the new website, which employs a dynamic interface to allow users to analyse the behaviour of the three important greenhouse gases influenced directly by human activities and natural variability: carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. Data for the synthetic greenhouse and ozone depleting gases, such as CFCs, also are available.
Greenhouse gases measured at Cape Grim Station.
Greenhouse gases measured at Cape Grim Station.
CSIRO Website
The website also features tutorials to provide additional information, including data from Antarctic ice samples that puts the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations over recent decades in the context of longer-term variations over the past 1000 years.
"The atmospheric level of carbon dioxide, which is the most important long-lived greenhouse gas influenced by human activities, is at its highest level in more than a million years, it is currently increasing at about 0.5 per cent each year," Dr Fraser said. "The measurements testify to a steady rise in carbon dioxide concentrations in the Earth’s atmosphere, mainly caused by the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation. The graphs we've made available online will enable people to examine the evidence about the major driver of recent climate change. This is fundamental information in determining the global actions needed to avoid greenhouse gases rising to dangerous levels."
There were several questions at the news conference focusing on whether the website was targeted at climate change sceptics. Dr Fraser quickly responded, “the new website has nothing to do with criticism about climate change science.” He said the whole purpose was to share “world quality factual data” with the general public.
Professor Peta Ashworth, Leader of CSIRO’s Science into Society Group, added that her team had been researching public perceptions to climate change for some time and recent research had shown that only 7% of Australians did not believe that climate change was happening. She said, “For the most part the majority of Australians are concerned and see it [climate change] as an issue.” She says the new website provides an opportunity for those interested on both sides of the debate to get “evidence” and “clarify” information for themselves.
Professor Ashworth also highlighted that the website has fantastic potential to be used in schools and could be linked with personal action programs.
Further enhancements are being planned for the website, including a download facility to improve the usability of the data.
The new website address is:
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