Greenhouse Gases Data Pathfinder

This pathfinder provides links to commonly-used data on greenhouse gases and highlights data on carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, ozone, chlorofluorocarbons, and water vapor.
Burning fossil fuels for electricity is a source of greenhouse gas emissions. Credit: Photo by Brendan O'Donnell via Unsplash.

Gases that trap heat in the atmosphere are called greenhouse gases (GHGs). Since the industrial revolution in the mid-1800s, human activities have increased the concentrations of GHGs in the atmosphere. Airborne, satellite, and ground-based instruments measure the composition of GHGs in the atmosphere, providing insight into how their composition is changing over time.

This Data Pathfinder is designed to help guide you through the process of selecting and using datasets applicable to monitoring greenhouse gases, with guidance on resolutions and direct links to the data sources. If you are new to remote sensing, the What is Remote Sensing? Backgrounder provides a good overview. In addition, NASA's Applied Remote Sensing Training Program (ARSET) provides numerous training modules, including Fundamentals of Remote Sensing.

If you have specific questions about how to use data, tools, or resources mentioned in this Data Pathfinder, please visit the Earthdata Forum. Here, you can interact with other data users and NASA subject matter experts on a variety of Earth science research and applications topics.

The datasets in this Data Pathfinder can be downloaded using Earthdata Search. Learn more about how to use Earthdata Search and other tools to visualize and explore data in the Tools for Data Access and Visualization section below.

An Overview of Greenhouse Gases

Life on Earth depends on energy from the Sun. About half the light energy reaching Earth's atmosphere passes through the air and clouds to the surface, where it is absorbed and radiated in the form of infrared heat. Nearly 90% of this heat is then absorbed by greenhouse gases and re-radiated, slowing heat loss to space. GHGs include carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), ozone (O3), and water vapor (H2O). 

Since the industrial revolution in the mid-1800s, human activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels and the clearing of land for agriculture, have increased the concentrations of GHGs in the atmosphere. The planet's average surface temperature has risen about 2.12° Fahrenheit (1.18° Celsius) since the late 19th century, and 10 of the warmest years on record have been observed since 2005. In its Sixth Assessment Report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that it is unequivocal that the increase of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide in the atmosphere over the industrial era is the result of human activities and that human influence is the principal driver of many changes observed across the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere. 

Remotely sensed GHG data are used in atmospheric models to estimate the sources and sinks of these gases. These data allow researchers to employ a top-down approach to emissions inventories, as opposed to a bottom-up approach that involves compiling an inventory of emissions from various sources. Satellite and aircraft-borne remote sensors can cover more area than in situ sensors and have the potential to shed light on sources and hotspots of GHG emissions, such as methane leaks or the effects of droughts and heatwaves, that may not be known from the bottom-up bookkeeping approach.

Common Measurements at a Glance

NASA collaborates with other federal entities and international space organizations, including NOAA and the European Space Agency (ESA), to acquire and distribute data relevant to greenhouse gases. Datasets referenced in this Data Pathfinder are from satellite, airborne, and ground-based sensors shown in the tables below. The first table includes datasets from satellite instruments, with their spatial and temporal resolutions (while many satellites and platforms carry multiple sensors, the table below only lists the primary sensor used in collecting the specified measurement). The second table includes airborne and ground-based measurements, with their spatial and temporal coverage. When available, NASA's Land, Atmosphere Near real-time Capability for EO (LANCE) provides data within three hours of a satellite observation, which allows for near real-time (NRT) monitoring and decision making.

Note: This is not an exhaustive list of datasets related to air quality measurements, and only includes datasets in NASA's Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS) collection.

Satellites/Platforms and Sensors

Measurement Satellite/Platform Sensor Spatial Resolution Temporal Resolution
CO2, CH4, H2O Aqua Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) 1° x 1° Daily, Monthly
CO2 Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) OCO-2 2.25 km x 1.29 km Daily
CO2 International Space Station OCO-3 2.25 km x 1.29 km Daily
CO2, CH4, N2O, O3, H2O Aura Tropospheric Emission Spectrometer (TES) 0.53 km x 5.3 km Daily, Monthly
N2O, O3, H2O Aura Microwave Limb Sounder (MLS) 4° x 5° NRT, Daily, Monthly
O3 Aura Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI) 1° x 1°, 0.25° x 0.25° NRT, Daily
O3, CH4 Sentinel-5 Precursor (Sentinel-5P) Tropospheric Monitoring Instrument (TROPOMI) 5.5 km x 3.5 km Daily, Monthly
O3 Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (Suomi NPP) Ozone Mapping and Profiler Suite (OMPS) 1° x 1° NRT, Daily
N2O, CFCs Aura High Resolution Dynamics Limb Sounder (HIRDLS) 1° zonal Daily
H2O Suomi NPP Advanced Technology Microwave Sounder (ATMS) and Cross-Track Infrared Sounder (CrIS), collectively known as the Cross-track Infrared and Microwave Sounding Suite (CrIMSS) 1° x 1° Daily, Monthly

Airborne and Ground-Based Measurements

Measurement Project Spatial Coverage Temporal Coverage
CO2, CH4, H2O Arctic Boreal Vulnerability Experiment (ABoVE) Alaska and Western Canada 2015 - 2017
CO2, CH4, N2O, O3 Atmospheric Carbon and Transport - America (ACT-America) Central and Eastern United States Jul-Aug 2016, Jan-Mar 2017, Oct-Nov 2017, Apr-May 2018, Jun-Jul 2019
CO2, CH4, N2O, O3, CFCs, H2O Atmospheric Tomography Mission (ATom) Global July 2016 - May 2018
CO2, CH4, H2O Carbon in Arctic Reservoirs Vulnerability Experiment (CARVE) Alaskan Arctic 2011 - 2015
CO2, CH4 Coastal Wetland Elevation and Carbon Flux Inventory United States 2006 - 2011
CO2 Database of Road Transportation Emissions (DARTE) United States 1980 - 2017
CH4 Methane Sources, Vista, California California 2005 - 2019
CO2, CH4, N2O North American Carbon Program (NACP) North America 2000 - Present
CO2 Vulcan Conterminous United States and the state of Alaska 2010 - 2015

Find the Data

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is an important greenhouse gas that is released through human activities as well as through natural processes.
Methane (CH4) is much less abundant in the atmosphere than CO2, but it is also much more powerful.
Nitrous oxide (N2O) is about 100 times more potent per pound than carbon dioxide over 100 years. 
Ozone (O3) is present both in the troposphere (or lower atmosphere) and the stratosphere (the layer above the troposphere), but has different impacts in each layer.
CFCs trap substantially more heat than CO2.
Water vapor (H2O) is the most abundant greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. 
Remotely sensed data can measure and assess changes in Earth’s environment caused by greenhouse gases.
NASA socioeconomic data can help understand populations that may be more vulnerable to or most impacted by greenhouse gases.
Use the Data

Scientists, researchers, decision makers, and others use remotely sensed greenhouse gas data for many uses. Satellite data, often coupled with ground-based data, inform emission and removal inventories, help users identify sources of pollutants, and enable the creation of models to project future emissions. The following use cases show how greenhouse gas data are used in research and applied activities around the world. 

Feature Articles and Resources

Environmental Justice Use Cases and Related Resources

Additional Resources

U.S. Greenhouse Gas Center
NASA-led effort involving the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and NOAA, the Center consolidates greenhouse gas information from observations and models to better understand greenhouse gas fluxes and emissions from natural and human-caused sources. 

Health and Air Quality Data Pathfinder
Provides links to NASA air quality data along with tools and other resources.

Carbon Mapper
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is providing an instrument that will enable a nonprofit organization called Carbon Mapper to pinpoint and measure CH4 and CO2 point-sources from space.

Methane Source Finder
Methane Source Finder is an interactive map that helps you explore methane data and related infrastructure in the state of California.

Community Emissions Data System (CEDS) for Historical Emissions
This public GitHub repository maintained by the University of Maryland provides emission estimates by country, sector, and fuel type.

Oil Climate Index plus Gas (OCI+)
Provides access to open source resources such as GIS-ready maps and data visualizations.

Connection of Sustainable Development Goals to Greenhouse Gases

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a collection of 17 interlinked global goals designed to be a blueprint for a sustainable future for all of Earth’s inhabitants. The SDGs are part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, an international plan signed by all United Nations (UN) member states in 2015 and underpinned by the foundational components of People, Planet, and Prosperity.

The 17 SDGs in the Agenda are made up of 169 objectives that include specific social, economic, and environmental targets. These targets provide a blueprint for developing a more sustainable global future.

Data acquired remotely by sensors aboard satellites and aircraft or installed on the ground play a unique role in tracking the progress toward achieving the SDGs. These remotely sensed Earth observations provide consistent and continuous information on the state of Earth processes and their change over time. These data also are integral components of socioeconomic metrics that provide a measure of how humans co-exist with the environment and the stresses they encounter through natural and human-caused changes to the environment.

NASA Earth observation data are available without restriction to all data users, a policy that is being adopted by other international space agencies and one that reduces the cost of monitoring the SDGs and provides developing countries a means to acquire and utilize these data for other policy-making purposes.

NASA’s datasets are organized by topics that help users to locate, access, and apply relevant and complementary datasets for each SDG. The Greenhouse Gases Data Pathfinder addresses (but is not limited to) the following SDGs:

SDG SDG Goals Relevant to Greenhouse Gases
Goal 11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
  • Reduce the adverse per capita environmental impact of cities, including by paying special attention to air quality and municipal and other waste management
  • Substantially increase the number of cities and human settlements adopting and implementing integrated policies and plans towards inclusion, resource efficiency, mitigation and adaptation to climate change, resilience to disasters, and develop and implement, in line with the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015–2030, holistic disaster risk management at all levels
Goal 12. Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
  • Achieve the environmentally sound management of chemicals and all wastes throughout their life cycle, in accordance with agreed international frameworks, and significantly reduce their release to air, water, and soil in order to minimize their adverse impacts on human health and the environment
  • Rationalize inefficient fossil-fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption by removing market distortions, in accordance with national circumstances, including by restructuring taxation and phasing out those harmful subsidies, where they exist, to reflect their environmental impacts, taking fully into account the specific needs and conditions of developing countries and minimizing the possible adverse impacts on their development in a manner that protects the poor and the affected communities
Goal 13. Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
  • Integrate climate change measures into national policies, strategies, and planning

The opportunities to connect NASA data to the SDGs are infinite; therefore, the datasets included in specific Data Pathfinders are not intended to be comprehensive. Additionally, NASA datasets are not official indicators for SDG monitoring and decision-making, but are complementary.

Tools for Data Access and Visualization

Earthdata Search | Panoply | Giovanni | Worldview | Visualize CARVE data

This section provides links to tools and applications relevant to analyzing and visualizing greenhouse gases data referenced in this Data Pathfinder. NASA's Earth Science Data Systems (ESDS) Program maintains many more resources for data analysis that may be helpful. Explore the full list on the NASA Earthdata Data Tools page.

Earthdata Search

Earthdata Search is a tool for discovering Earth Observation data collections from EOSDIS, as well as U.S and international agencies across Earth science disciplines.

Users can search for and read about data collections, search for data files by date and spatial area, preview browse images, and download or submit requests for data files, with customization for select data collections.


In the project area, for some datasets, you can customize your granule. You can reformat the data and output as HDF, NetCDF, ASCII, KML, or GeoTIFF format. You can also choose from a variety of projection options. Lastly, you can subset the data, obtaining only the bands that are needed.

Back to top of Tools section


Files in HDF and NetCDF format can be viewed in Panoply, a cross-platform application that plots geo-referenced and other arrays. Panoply offers additional functionality, such as slicing and plotting arrays, combining arrays, and exporting plots and animations.

Back to top of Tools section


Giovanni is an online environment for the display and analysis of geophysical parameters. There are many options for analysis. The following are the more popular ones.

  • Time-averaged maps are a simple way to observe the variability of data values over a region of interest.
  • Map animations are a means to observe spatial patterns and detect unusual events over time.
  • Area-averaged time series are used to display the value of a data variable that has been averaged from all the data values acquired for a selected region for each time step.
  • Histogram plots are used to display the distribution of values of a data variable in a selected region and time interval.

For more detailed tutorials:

  • Giovanni How-To’s on NASA's GES DISC YouTube channel.
  • Data recipe for downloading a Giovanni map in NetCDF format and converting its data to quantifiable map data in the form of latitude-longitude-data value ASCII text.
Back to top of Tools section


NASA's Worldview data visualization application provides the capability to interactively browse over 1,000 global, full-resolution satellite imagery layers and then download the underlying data. Many of the available imagery layers are updated within three hours of a satellite observation, essentially showing the entire Earth as it looks “right now.” This supports time-critical application areas such as wildfire management, air quality measurements, and flood monitoring. Imagery in Worldview is provided by NASA’s Global Imagery Browse Services (GIBS). Worldview also includes nine geostationary imagery layers from GOES-East, GOES-West, and Himawari-8 that are available at 10-minute increments for the last 30 days. These layers include Red Visible, which can be used for analyzing daytime clouds, fog, insolation, and winds; Clean Infrared, which provides cloud top temperature and information about precipitation; and Air Mass RGB, which enables the visualization of the differentiation between air mass types (e.g., dry air, moist air, etc.). These full disk hemispheric views allow for almost real-time viewing of changes occurring around most of the world.

Worldview allows users to animate imagery over time and do a screen-by-screen comparison of data for different time periods or a comparison of different datasets.

Back to top of Tools section

Visualize CARVE Data

From 2011 to 2015, the CARVE mission collected airborne measurements of atmospheric CO2, CH4, H2O, and and relevant land surface parameters in the Alaskan Arctic. Visualize CO2, CH4, and H2O data from CARVE flights using the CARVE data visualizer from NASA’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory Distributed Active Archive Center (ORNL DAAC).


Back to top of Tools section

Benefits and Limitations of Remote Sensing Data

Airborne, satellite, and ground-based instruments measure the composition of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and provide insight into how the concentrations of these gases are changing over time. Remotely sensed greenhouse gas data are used in atmospheric models to estimate the sources and sinks of these gases. Satellite and aircraft-borne remote sensors can cover more area than in situ sensors and have the potential to shed light on sources and hotspots of greenhouse gas emissions, such as methane leaks or the effects of droughts and heatwaves. Satellite data also provide information for determining exposure and risk categories.

For more information about NASA’s role in measuring greenhouse gas sources and sinks, read the statement by Dr. Karen M. St. Germain, Director, NASA's Earth Science Division, to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, Subcommittee on the Environment and Subcommittee on Research and Technology, June 23, 2022.

Last Updated