Peter Raymond Awarded NASA Carbon Cycle Science Grant

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Peter Raymond, Professor of Ecosystem Ecology at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES), has been awarded a $1 million dollar Carbon Cycle Science grant from NASA to study the exchange of greenhouse gases between inland water bodies and the atmosphere, which has implications for global climate change. Raymond, who was recently elected to the Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering, is an expert on nutrient cycling in aquatic ecosystems.
 
A big part of this project, he says, is simply quantifying the amount of inland water surface worldwide. “It’s one of those things you’d think we would have a fairly accurate accounting of by now,” Raymond said.
 
But scientists have only recently had the technology to identify the world’s inland water bodies, thanks largely to improvements in remote sensing developed by NASA’s Earth science research program, he said.
 
“Inland waters are an important, but understudied, part of the carbon cycle,” said Hank Margolis ‘80 M.F., Program Manager at NASA’s Terrestrial Ecology Program.“Because of the small size of many inland waterways, they represent a significant remote sensing challenge.”
 
In recent years, remote sensing has become an invaluable tool for observing the Earth, from measuring sea ice in the Arctic to helping scientists monitor Dall sheep habitat in Alaska’s Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. But remote sensing can present particular challenges for ecosystem scientists. Satellites can only see certain-sized water bodies, making them difficult to find. Moreover, because NASA satellites are global in extent, their measurements need to be calibrated and validated in a consistent manner across large areas. “This project addresses an important issue involving the standardization of measurements for inland waters,” Margolis said.
There’s a lot of uncertainty that leveraging these products coming out of NASA can help reduce... a big breakthrough will come when we have direct measurements. 
— Peter Raymond
Raymond’s previous research suggests that evasion, the release of carbon dioxide from inland water bodies to the atmosphere, plays a significant role in the global carbon cycle. He authored the inland water components of the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, which included freshwater outgassing. Despite these advances, he insists this is still a budding area for researchers.
 
“There’s a lot of uncertainty that leveraging these products coming out of NASA can help reduce,” he said, “and a need for more measurements with colleagues in the field.” For example, scientists are uncertain as to which sized water bodies are most important, and how much of a role humans play in altering the evasion of CO2 and other greenhouse gases, he says.
 
”A big breakthrough will come when we have direct measurements,” he said.
 
NASA has long engaged in Earth observation. Its Earth Science Division (ESD) sits within its Science Mission Directorate alongside the Planetary Sciences, Heliophysics, and Astrophysics Divisions. ESD currently accounts for approximately 10 percent of NASA’s total budget.It develops coordinated satellite and airborne missions for long-term global observations of the land surface, biosphere, solid Earth, atmosphere, and oceans. One of its main objectives is to detect and predict changes in Earth’s ecosystems and nutrient cycles, including the global carbon cycle.
 
NASA’s satellite missions are developed in consultation with scientists in other government agencies and at universities across the country. In addition, NASA’s Earth Ventures program solicits new PI-led missions, and every 10 years the National Academy of Sciences conducts a Decadal Survey to identify Earth science needs from the academic sector; its most recent survey will be released later this year. There is also a process for coordinating satellite missions internationally among the major space agencies. Other federal agencies such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the United States Geological Survey (USGS) work with NASA to operate the satellites once they are in orbit.
 
Throughout the three-year project, Raymond and co-investigator David Butman ’06 M.E.Sc., ’12 Ph.D., an assistant professor at the University of Washington, will conduct community building with other researchers in Africa, Southeast Asia, and South America, regions where there is a lack of data on inland water bodies.

Raymond’s project was supported as part of an inter-agency research solicitation on carbon cycle science involving NASA, NOAA, the U.S. Department of Energy, and U.S. Department of Agriculture.  
 
 
 
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PUBLISHED: February 24, 2017
 

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