NASA Awards Penn State $30 Million For Climate Change Study

Penn State has received a $30 million grant from NASA to lead a five-year study of carbon-related greenhouse gases. The goal of the study is to better understand and thus better manage climate change.

The university’s Atmospheric Carbon and Transport-America (ACT America) project is one of just five programs selected by NASA to receive grant funding for such a study. NASA aircraft will take off in 2015 as part of five studies throughout the world that aim to investigate air pollution, warming ocean waters, fires in Africa, and the affect of these on our climate.

Penn State’s program was selected as part of the competitive NASA Earth Venture missions, the second series of such suborbital investigations. Ken Davis, a professor of meteorology in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, will be the principal investigator for Penn State’s study, which plans to measure levels of carbon dioxide, methane, and other gases and atmospheric conditions within the eastern United States.

The study “will improve detection and quantification of carbon dioxide and methane sources and sinks using airborne, satellite, and ground-based observations,” according to a release from the university. Penn State’s ACT-America will be led by a team of more than 30 scientists from 10 institutions that include other universities, federal agencies, and national laboratories. Penn State has partnered with the NASA Langley Research Center to conduct the study.

“This mission is focused primarily on ecosystem fluxes of carbon dioxide,” Davis said. “Ecosystem fluxes of carbon dioxide and methane are large forces in the climate system. About 25 percent of carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuel gets absorbed by terrestrial ecosystems and about another 25 percent gets absorbed by oceans so only about half of the CO2 that we emit stays in the atmosphere. This is a huge benefit but we are not able to predict the future course of this sink.”

ACT-America’s five-year study will enact airborne, space-borne, and ground-based measurements in order to better quantify emissions. Davis said that the mission will deploy five flight campaigns that are each set to last six weeks, using the NASA C-130 research aircraft pictured above. The study will focus on the northeast, upper Midwest, and Gulf coast states, with each study region being samples during all four seasons.

Image: NASA / Dennis Rieke and Mark Russell

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Zach Berger

Zach Berger is a StateCollege.com reporter and Onward State's Managing Editor Emeritus. You can find him at the Phyrst more nights than not. If he had to pick a last meal, Zach would go for a medium-rare New York strip steak with a side of garlic mashed potatoes and a cold BrewDog Punk IPA. You can reach him via e-mail at [email protected] or on Twitter at @theZachBerger.

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