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Emissions of greenhouse gases are objectively measurable

Climate models no longer necessarily guesswork
11 October 2010

Although billions of euros are being made in the emissions trade worldwide, no country has ever objectively checked whether its emissions estimates are correct. Research by Sander van der Laan and Ingrid van der Laan-Luijkx has shown that it is indeed possible to objectively test current greenhouse gas estimates. The greenhouse gas emissions of, for example, an area the size of the Netherlands can be measured from one measuring station. These and other conclusions can be found in the Van der Laan-Luijkx theses for which the couple will be awarded PhDs by the University of Groningen on 22 October 2010.

The Netherlands recently purchased the rights to emit 3 million tons of CO2 from Latvia. The costs involved were over EUR 40 million, giving an impression of the enormous figures involved in the worldwide emissions trade. The countries that signed the Kyoto Protocol have agreed to have their emissions tested by an independent party.
In principle, this means that atmospheric measurements are necessary. In practice, however, an independent party will recalculate the emissions based on the same figures as the government uses. The methods used also have many unknown variables; the calculations can vary as much as forty percent.

Testing emissions objectively

Research by Sander van der Laan has shown that it is possible to test existing calculations objectively and accurately using atmospheric measurements. An area the size of the Netherlands would need no more than one measuring station, while four or five of them would provide optimum accuracy. Van der Laan describes measurements in his thesis that were conducted at the University of Groningen measuring station Lutjewad, on the Waddenzee dyke near Hornhuizen.

Making fraud impossible

Van der Laan concluded that the actual emissions of the most important greenhouse gases CO2, CH4 (methane) and N2O (laughing gas) are the same as the emissions reported by the government. The Netherlands is among the world leaders in greenhouse gas emissions and is honest about the fact. Van der Laan: ‘Apparently, figures are reported accurately in the Netherlands by such parties as industry and the agricultural community and reporting is well taken care of. But developing countries in particular are sensitive to fraud and objective measurements are therefore very necessary.’

Simple to use

The measurement method described by Van der Laan is simple to use and could be used all over the world. Van der Laan: ‘The measuring equipment has to stay in the same place for a while in order to generate reliable figures. After three or four years, however, it can be moved to validate calculations somewhere else in the world.’ Globally, there is a huge network of measurement stations that could be expanded, but telephone masts for example would also be able to house the equipment.

CO2 absorption by the oceans

Ingrid van der Laan-Luijkx conducted measurements of CO2 and oxygen from the F3, a drilling platform in the North Sea. One of the aims was to try to chart the absorption of CO2 by the oceans across the world. Van der Laan-Luijkx: ‘CO2 measurements are usually done in the air above land. There is still a lot of mystery about the role of the oceans in the carbon cycle. This is because it is difficult to take measurements and there was never a practical reason to conduct research. This despite the fact that an accurate idea of the role of the oceans is very important – they absorb over half of all the CO2 emitted and are thus a crucial link in the carbon cycle.’

Improving climate models

Van der Laan-Luijkx’s research has revealed that globally the oceans absorb 1.8 Pg of carbon every year. The researcher was also able to establish that the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased in the past decade by 2 ppm a year. The research thus confirms the results of previous international studies and supplements them. Van der Laan-Luijkx: ‘The conclusions I draw regarding seasonal variations in the emission and absorption of CO2, for example, provide extra input for climate models. Research like this generates more insight into the climate change process.’

Curriculum Vitae

Sander van der Laan (Dokkum, 1978) and Ingrid van der Laan-Luijkx (Eindhoven, 1979) met during their Energy and Environmental Sciences degree programme at the University of Groningen. They conducted parts of their PhD research together. Their theses are called, respectively, Validation of the greenhouse gas balance of the Netherlands and Atmospheric oxygen and the global carbon cycle. They will each be awarded a PhD by the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences. Their supervisors were Prof. H.A.J. (Harro) Meijer and Prof. H.J.W. (Hein) de Baar. They currently have a dual job as researchers at the University of Bern, Switzerland. 

Last modified:15 September 2017 3.29 p.m.

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