The Trump administration has quietly ended a NASA research program to monitor the level of greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere, according to Science. The program, called the Carbon Monitoring System (CMS), helped to model data from satellites and aircraft tracking carbon dioxide and methane. The move will stymie efforts to verify compliance with the Paris climate agreement, and seems to fit with the administration’s broader policies of hindering measures to combat climate change.
“If you cannot measure emissions reductions, you cannot be confident that countries are adhering to the agreement,” according to Kelly Sims Gallagher, director of the Tufts University Center for International Environment and Resource Policy.
A spending deal in March said nothing about the program, leaving it vulnerable to the administration’s recent decision. According to NASA spokesperson Steve Cole, no new research will be funded after current grants are completed. Cole noted that the CMS was cancelled due to ”budget constraints and higher priorities within the science budget.”
Yet, the move follows Trump administration proposals to cut NASA’s earth science budget, and to cancel climate missions like the Orbiting Carbon Observatory 3 (OCO-3). While those efforts were halted by resistance in congress, the CMS program’s $10 million annual budget was not mentioned at all in the March budget.
Many of the program’s projects worked to study how forests act to absorb carbon emissions, and to track emissions for compliance with the Paris accord. Trump withdrew from that deal in June of last year.
Rachel Licker, a climate change expert with the Union of Concerned Scientists, told the BBC that “dismantling CMS will adversely affect our ability to track flows of carbon through our land, oceans and atmosphere.”
The program was key to tying together data from other climate research. With the OCO-3 set to be mounted onto the International Space Station this year, and the Geostationary Carbon Cycle Observatory to launch sometime after 2020, the program will be missed, according to climate experts.
Europe has its own carbon-monitoring satellite, and plans to develop more in the future. Experts have warned that the administration’s policies may allow other nations to take leadership roles in carbon monitoring technology, which will be increasingly central to climate mitigation efforts in the future.
University of Maryland carbon cycle researcher George Hurtt, who leads the CMS science team, still hopes for a renewal of the program.
“The topic of climate mitigation and carbon monitoring is maybe not the highest priority now in the United States. But it is almost everywhere else,” says Hurtt.