Blog: A Business-like Approach to Data Gathering


By Gail Riekie. 31st January 2011.

I expect most MethaneNet users spotted last month’s announcement that private business is to get involved in collecting atmospheric greenhouse gas data.

For those who missed it, the news is that Earth Networks, a US based weather data company, is investing $25 million over the next 5 years to set up a network of 100 sensors which will measure concentrations of CH4 and CO2 around the globe on a long term basis. Earth Networks are working in collaboration with the Scripps Institute, whose scientists will be involved in ensuring that the data acquisition is conducted in line with current research requirements.

My impression is that the research community has reacted positively to the news, welcoming the opportunity for a more comprehensive set of data on spatial and temporal variations in the concentration of these two most important greenhouse gases. Pieter Tans, head of the Carbon Cycle and Greenhouse Gases group at NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory, was quoted in the Economist as being ‘cautiously optimistic’ about the new development. Likewise, Euan Nisbet of Royal Holloway, University of London, a prominent expert in the field of methane and global change, told me that “…provisionally I think it is a very good thing…. provided the data are properly calibrated and made open access after a fair commercial-use time”.

It remains the case that this first ‘privatisation’ of greenhouse gas measurements is something of a step into the unknown for the global methane research community. In other areas of endeavour, where commercial operations are involved in gathering or producing information of great interest to academic scientists – genome research and oil exploration are two that come immediately to mind – tensions can arise around issues of access to commercially sensitive data. However, neither of example is a direct analogue for the collaborative GHG gathering venture proposed by Earth Networks and the Scripps Institute.

I am curious to know what other MethaneNet members think of this new development in data gathering. Could the model be extended into other areas of our work? Do you foresee a golden age of plentiful new greenhouse gas data to analyse, or dangers ahead for a research community less in control of the information acquired? Are there other issues that should be considered?

Please do leave a comment and let the network know your views.


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