With the consequences of human-accelerated climate change more obvious every day, terms like “carbon emissions” and “greenhouse gasses” are tossed around constantly. Unless you’re a climatologist or dedicated citizen scientist, however, these words represent something intangible and often invisible. Since humans are known for ignoring things they can’t see, making carbon emissions visible, especially in urban areas, might be an eye-opener. Literally.
To make this possible, a team of researchers at Arizona State University developed a new software system capable of estimating greenhouse gas emissions across entire urban landscapes, all the way down to roads and individual buildings. Working with the Department of Computer Graphics and Technology at Purdue University, they’re able to display this information on a map that shows the hourly, building-by-building dynamics of CO2 emissions in a given city.
The mapping system has been dubbed “Hestia” after the Greek goddess of the hearth and home. The multi-university team of researchers presented its function in a recent issue of the journal Environmental Science and Technology [PDF]. The modeling software uses local air pollution reports, traffic counts, and building-by-building energy consumption data to quantify CO2 emissions at the level of individual buildings and street segments.
“Cities have had little information with which to guide reductions in greenhouse gas emissions – and you can’t reduce what you can’t measure,” said Kevin Gurney, an associate professor in ASU’s School of Life Sciences, and senior scientist with the Global Institute of Sustainability. “With Hestia, we can provide cities with a complete, three-dimensional picture of where, when and how carbon dioxide emissions are occurring.”
So far, scientists have applied Hestia to the city of Indianapolis, and work is ongoing for the cities of Los Angeles and Phoenix. They hope to ultimately map the CO2 emissions in all major cities across the United States, which accounts for nearly one-quarter of all global CO2emissions.