Utah's CO2 Sensor Network Shows Emissions Trends Across The Valley

Mar 20, 2018

  Scientists at the University of Utah are leading the way in what we can learn about CO2 emissions in urban and rural settings. What began as one sensor, established on the university’s campus in 2001, has grown to a network of five sensors measuring emissions across the Salt Lake Valley.

Five CO2 sensors monitor emissions across the Salt Lake Valley.
Credit Flickr


“So we used atmospheric models to understand where the CO2 is coming from and it’s carried in by the winds and so we have an atmospheric model that incorporates all of the wind information and once we’ve incorporated all of that then we can understand, we call it the footprint of the station. The atmospheric footprint covers a pretty wide swath and it’s more sensitive closer to the station, but it extends out many miles” said Dr. Logan Mitchell, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Utah.


Scientists use data from these footprints to monitor long-term emissions trends at the different sensor sites.


“If you go to the one [sensor] that’s in the southwest part of the valley, back in 2001 there really wasn’t anything around that station, but over the past 15 years the edge of suburban developed area has gotten closer and closer to the station,” Mitchell said.    


While land use and population density were considered as key factors in the study, findings suggest that the type of development around a station may have the largest impact on increasing CO2 emissions.  


“The downtown stations saw relatively constant emissions and within the downtown the population actually increased, about the same amount as the population increase in the southwest part of the valley. So it’s not just population, it’s also what kind of urban development is occurring in those areas and it seems like the city center was able to incorporate those people and not change emissions patterns,” Mitchell said.  


These findings suggest that cities looking to establish their own sensor networks should consider urban development as a large influence on emissions. For more information, see the article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences here.