This passive laser heterodyne radiometer (LHR) instrument simultaneously measures multiple trace gases in the atmospheric column including carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4), and resolves their concentrations at different altitudes. This instrument has been designed to operate in tandem with the passive aerosol sensor currently used in AERONET (an established network of more than 450 ground aerosol monitoring instruments worldwide). Because aerosols induce a radiative effect that influences terrestrial carbon exchange, simultaneous detection of aerosols with these key carbon cycle gases offers a uniquely comprehensive measurement approach.

Laser heterodyne radiometry is a technique for detecting weak signals that was adapted from radio receiver technology. In a radio receiver, a weak input signal from a radio antenna is mixed with a stronger local oscillator signal. The mixed signal (beat note, or intermediate frequency) has a frequency equal to the difference between the input signal and the local oscillator. The intermediate frequency is amplified and sent to a detector that extracts the audio from the signal.

In the LHR instrument described here, sunlight that has undergone absorption by the trace gas is mixed with laser light at a frequency matched to a trace gas absorption feature in the infrared (IR). Mixing results in a beat signal in the RF (radio frequency) region that can be related to the atmospheric concentration. For a one-second integration, the estimated column sensitivities are 0.1 ppmv for CO2, and <1 ppbv for CH4.

In addition to producing a standalone ground measurement product, this instrument could be used to calibrate/ validate four Earth observing missions: ASCENDS (Active Sensing of CO2 Emissions over Nights, Days, and Seasons), OCO-2 (Orbiting Carbon Ob - servatory), OCO-3, and GOSAT (Green - house gases Observational SATellite).

The only network that currently measures CO2 and CH4 in the atmospheric column is TCCON (Total Carbon Column Observing Network), and only two of its 16 operational sites are in the United States. TCCON data is used for validation of GOSAT data, and will be used for OCO-2 validation. While these Fourier-transform spectrometers (FTS) can measure the largest range of trace gases, the network is severely limited due to the high cost and extreme size of these instruments (these occupy small buildings and require personnel for operation). The LHR/AERONET in strument offers a significantly smaller (carry-on luggage size) autonomous instrument that can be incorporated into AERONET’s much larger (450 instruments) global network.

This work was done by Emily Steel and Matthew McLinden of Goddard Space Flight Center. GSC-16327-1

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the May, 2012 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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