As countries around the world commit to reducing emissions, measuring their carbon pollution is critical to tracking progress. Pieter Tans is a senior scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and he’s invented a tool that might help.

AirCore system

The AirCore is a patented air sampling device that at first seems improbably simple: a steel tube – 500 feet long and as thick as a chopstick – coiled up like a hose and sent into the stratosphere by helium balloon.

At roughly a 100,000 feet, the balloon pops. Then a parachute deploys, slowing the AirCore’s descent while it gathers samples from nearly every layer of the atmosphere.

TANS: “That’s what AirCore does: we bring back the physical sample of a very long sliver of air all the way from nearly the very top of the atmosphere to the ground, and we put that through calibrated instruments. So we produce calibrated measurements.”

Pieter Tans
Pieter Tans

Tans says it’s this continuous air sample that makes AirCore more precise than satellites and ground-based instruments.

It’s not yet ready for commercial use, but AirCore’s simple design and accuracy may make it a more affordable and effective way to track global emissions of carbon dioxide.

Reporting credit: Justin Bull/ChavoBart Digital Media.
AirCore photo source: NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory.

More Resources
Could this simple system save the world?
NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory
AirCore: An innovative atmospheric sampling system
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