Econostrum | Economic News in the Mediterranean

ICOS uses trees to help us understand global warming

Written by Michel Neumuller, MARSEILLE on Friday, December 12th 2014 à 09:57 | Read 665 times

MEDITERRANEAN. A key issue in the debate on global warming, greenhouse gases (GHG) are poorly measured in practice. ICOS, an international research network active in Spain, Italy and Portugal, recently set up a measurement station in Provence to observe the impact of forests on GHG emissions and their atmospheric concentration.

Yves Noack: “GHG measurement is limited even though everyone in our society is talking about it” (photo MN)
Yves Noack: “GHG measurement is limited even though everyone in our society is talking about it” (photo MN)
On 11 July 2014, the French Secretary of State for Higher Education Geneviève Fioraso and José-Manuel Barroso, then president of the European Commission, visited the ITER's facilities in Provence. This project is one of the largest and most expensive currently being conducted in Europe.
The visit also gave them the opportunity to inaugurate the ICOS tower, financed by the EU and the French government, just a few dozen kilometres away. The latest addition to the Integrated Carbon Observation System (ICOS) international network, this station is designed to measure greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and their absorption by forests, which are particularly dense in this area.
ICOS has received 460,000 euros in financing – half of which came from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) – to closely monitor carbon fluxes, predict the behaviour of greenhouse gases (GHG) and evaluate the effectiveness of carbon sequestration by forests and particularly soil.
“The station is based at the Haute-Provence Astronomical Observatory and forms part of a European network. The idea behind it is simple: it will finally give us an accurate picture of the reality of greenhouse gases,” explains CNRS research director Yves Noack, also a researcher at the European Center for Research and Education in Geosciences and the Environment (CEREGE) in Aix-en-Provence – link, who will be following the project with this in mind.

The 100-metre-high tower with extensive equipment erected at the Haute-Provence Observatory (photo CNRS DR)
The 100-metre-high tower with extensive equipment erected at the Haute-Provence Observatory (photo CNRS DR)

Measurement of greenhouse gases is currently limited

“Monitoring GHGs is crucial for the future of our planet but measurement of them is poor because this isn't regulated,” Noack says. “It's possible to get a rough idea of CO2 emissions from the consumption of fossil fuels. But inventories lack data on numerous other potential sources of emissions. Models are based on the number of households heated or the number of cars, for example. ICOS will provide us with measured information on emissions from forests in the Mediterranean.”
It will also collect data on the role played by soil. This carbon sink provides food for nanofauna and leaf litter also cuts back on the amount of CO2 released into the atmosphere. Trees also consume CO2 while they are growing. The impact forests have on global warming over millions of  km² is probably as significant as it is misunderstood.
“Could forests be absorbing industrially-produced carbon oxides or at least compensating for them to a certain extent? This is one of the key issues at ICOS,” says Yves Noack.
Recognised in 2015 as a major research tool in France, ICOS has secured long-term priority public financing and shares its data with other European bodies including Tuscia University (Italy), the Technical University of Lisbon (Portugal) and the University of Las Palmas in the Canary Islands (Spain) as well as other European laboratories.

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