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Scientists Creating Super-Detailed Emissions Profile of LA

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Scientists from JPL and elsewhere have an incredible project underway, based on top of Mount Wilson in the Angeles National Forest--they're using all kinds of equipment to create a detailed carbon emissions profile of the Los Angeles basin. "From the ridgeline, they deploy a mechanical lung that senses airborne chemicals and a unique sunbeam analyzer that scans the skies over the Los Angeles Basin. At a sister site at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), researchers slice the clouds with a shimmering green laser, trap air samples in glass flasks, and stare at the sun with a massive mirrored contraption that looks like God's own microscope," as The Atlantic Cities describes it. They're part of a huge endeavor called the Megacities Carbon Project that hopes to figure out exactly what a carbon footprint looks like in a wide sampling of cities (LA's location between mountains and ocean might makes its data relevant in a similarly-situated city like Mumbai)--scientists have realized that it makes sense to look at climate change on a city-by-city level; it's more practical for political and scientific reasons, and because "That's where all the people and resources are" (Cities emit about 70 percent of humankind's fossil fuels, although they also tend to use energy more efficiently.) The project "hopes to sculpt a model of L.A.'s emissions so detailed that they'll be able to pull out individual signatures, such as exactly what and how much is spewing from rush-hour traffic or the port system or large landfills."

The group had thought they'd find that emissions are relatively uniform across the basin, since it's pretty flat, but they've "picked up a number of hot spots with abnormally high concentrations of methane" in north Orange County and the City of Industry. Now they're working on figuring out the exact causes. (They suspect that the La Brea Tar Pits and leaking natural gas pipes might also cause hot spots.) They also intend to set up about a dozen air-sampling devices called Picarros in various neighborhoods so they can "ceaselessly inspect the air for greenhouse gas."

Once there's a full picture, everyone can get a better idea of how to reduce emissions: "If the researchers can extract the signature of freeway traffic, it could instruct a municipality how and where to build future roads, enact tolls, or allot carpool lanes." Work has been going on in LA for about a year now.
· How NASA Scientists Are Turning L.A. Into One Big Climate-Change Lab [The Atlantic Cities, image via]