Greenhouse Gases Data Pathfinder

This pathfinder provides data to commonly-used data on greenhouse gases and is geared towards researchers in need of satellite, airborne, or ground-based data on climate-warming gases. The pathfinder highlights data on carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, ozone, chlorofluorocarbons, and water vapor.
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Burning fossil fuels for electricity is a source of greenhouse gas emissions. 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. The planet's average surface temperature has risen about 2.12 degrees Fahrenheit (1.18 degrees Celsius) since the late 19th century, and 10 of the warmest years on record have been observed since 2005. GHGs include carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), ozone (O3), and water vapor (H2O). Airborne, satellite, and ground-based instruments measure the composition of GHGs in the atmosphere, providing insight into how their composition is changing over time.

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 which 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.

This data pathfinder is focused on satellite and airborne measurements of greenhouse gases, although some notable ground-based measurements of carbon dioxide are included. Some satellite datasets are available in near real-time (generally within three hours of a satellite observation) through NASA’s Land, Atmosphere Near real-time Capability for EOS (LANCE) and provide valuable information on the sources of climate-warming gases.

The datasets listed below can be downloaded though 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.

About the Data

NASA collaborates with other federal entities and international space organizations, including NOAA and the European Space Agency (ESA), to collect and distribute greenhouse gases data. Datasets referenced in this 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. Note that many satellites/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.

Note: This is not an exhaustive list of datasets but rather only includes datasets from NASA's Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS).

Platform Sensor Spatial Resolution Temporal Resolution Measurement
Aqua Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) 1° x 1° Daily, Monthly CO2, CH4, H2O
Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) OCO-2 2.25 km x 1.29 km Daily CO2
International Space Station (ISS) Orbiting Carbon Observatory-3 (OCO-3) 2.25 km x 1.29 km Daily CO2
Aura Tropospheric Emission Spectrometer (TES) 0.53 km x 5.3 km Daily, Monthly CO2, CH4, N2O, O3, H2O
Aura Microwave Limb Sounder (MLS) 4° x 5° Near Real-Time, Daily, Monthly N2O, O3, H2O
Aura Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI) 1° x 1°, 0.25° x 0.25° Near Real-Time, Daily O3
Sentinel-5 Precursor (Sentinel-5P) Tropospheric Monitoring Instrument (TROPOMI) 5.5 km x 3.5 km Daily, Monthly O3, CH4
Joint NASA/NOAA Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (Suomi NPP) Ozone Mapping and Profiler Suite (OMPS) 1° x 1° Near Real-Time, Daily O3
Aura High Resolution Dynamics Limb Sounder (HIRDLS) 1° zonal Daily N2O, CFCs
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 H2O

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NASA conducts airborne and ground campaigns to obtain high-resolution temporal and spatial measurements of complex local processes, which can be coupled to global satellite observations for a better understanding of Earth system processes. The airborne and ground measurements included in this pathfinder are in the table below.

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

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

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.

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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.

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Panoply

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.

Giovanni

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.

Worldview

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.

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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).

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Other Resources

NASA Climate
Current news and data streams about climate change from NASA.

Health and Air Quality Data Pathfinder
Find and visualize NASA air quality data.

Carbon Mapper
Planet, with assistance from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA, is providing the first two satellites that will enable a nonprofit organization called Carbon Mapper to pinpoint and measure point-sources of methane and carbon dioxide globally. The first two Carbon Mapper satellites are scheduled for a 2023 launch.

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

Benefits and Limitations of Remote Sensing Data

The United States is fortunate to have numerous in-situ measurements for assessing water quality parameters, yet in-situ measurements have limited sample collection and so are not representative of the entire water body. In other countries and in more rural areas of the United States, sampling is even more limited or non-existent. Satellite data provide more regional to global spatial coverage; some information is available in near real-time, allowing for a more efficient response. Satellite data have also been collected for a longer period of time, providing for data continuity and trend analyses. With satellite data, assessments can be made regarding ocean color, but this provides only qualitative measures. For quantitative water quality monitoring analysis, in-situ measurements are required; the combination of satellite observations with in-situ makes for a more robust and integrated forecasting and response system.

While satellite data provide a more global view, it is important to note that satellite measurements are made through the atmosphere and not at the water level. As such, atmospheric correction algorithms must be run before water quality assessments can be made.

Also note that the sensors all have varying spatial, temporal and radiometric resolutions. For example, many of the polar-orbiting satellites only pass over the same location every 1-2 days, but have a coarser spatial resolution, while others pass over every 16+ days, but have a much finer spatial resolution. Finding the right instrument or understanding the modeling processes for your area of interest is key.

Other challenges include the difficulty in separating water quality parameters of CDOM, NAP, and chlorophyll content when all three are present. Also, remote sensing observations alone are unable to discern between algal types or toxins.

Find the Data

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is an important greenhouse gas that is released through human activities, as well as natural processes.
Methane (CH4) is much less abundant in the atmosphere than CO2, but it’s also more powerful.
Nitrous oxide (N2O) is a powerful greenhouse gas that 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 are greenhouse gases that trap substantially more heat than CO2.
Water vapor (H2O) is the most abundant greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. 
Last Updated
Nov 5, 2021