Articles | Volume 10, issue 2
Research article
01 Mar 2017
Research article |  | 01 Mar 2017

A mobile sensor network to map carbon dioxide emissions in urban environments

Joseph K. Lee, Andreas Christen, Rick Ketler, and Zoran Nesic

Abstract. A method for directly measuring carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions using a mobile sensor network in cities at fine spatial resolution was developed and tested. First, a compact, mobile system was built using an infrared gas analyzer combined with open-source hardware to control, georeference, and log measurements of CO2 mixing ratios on vehicles (car, bicycles). Second, two measurement campaigns, one in summer and one in winter (heating season) were carried out. Five mobile sensors were deployed within a 1 × 12. 7 km transect across the city of Vancouver, BC, Canada. The sensors were operated for 3.5 h on pre-defined routes to map CO2 mixing ratios at street level, which were then averaged to 100  ×  100 m grid cells. The averaged CO2 mixing ratios of all grids in the study area were 417.9 ppm in summer and 442.5 ppm in winter. In both campaigns, mixing ratios were highest in the grid cells of the downtown core and along arterial roads and lowest in parks and well vegetated residential areas. Third, an aerodynamic resistance approach to calculating emissions was used to derive CO2 emissions from the gridded CO2 mixing ratio measurements in conjunction with mixing ratios and fluxes collected from a 28 m tall eddy-covariance tower located within the study area. These measured emissions showed a range of −12 to 226 CO2 ha−1 h−1 in summer and of −14 to 163 kg CO2 ha−1 h−1 in winter, with an average of 35.1 kg CO2 ha−1 h−1 (summer) and 25.9 kg CO2 ha−1 h−1 (winter). Fourth, an independent emissions inventory was developed for the study area using buildings energy simulations from a previous study and routinely available traffic counts. The emissions inventory for the same area averaged to 22.06 kg CO2 ha−1 h−1 (summer) and 28.76 kg CO2 ha−1 h−1 (winter) and was used to compare against the measured emissions from the mobile sensor network. The comparison on a grid-by-grid basis showed linearity between CO2 mixing ratios and the emissions inventory (R2 = 0. 53 in summer and R2 = 0. 47 in winter). Also, 87 % (summer) and 94 % (winter) of measured grid cells show a difference within ±1 order of magnitude, and 49 % (summer) and 69 % (winter) show an error of less than a factor 2. Although associated with considerable errors at the individual grid cell level, the study demonstrates a promising method of using a network of mobile sensors and an aerodynamic resistance approach to rapidly map greenhouse gases at high spatial resolution across cities. The method could be improved by longer measurements and a refined calculation of the aerodynamic resistance.

Short summary
We developed a method for directly measuring emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide in cities, using a mobile sensor network operated on vehicles (car, bikes) with open-source components. In two measurement campaigns, the network was tested in the City of Vancouver, BC, Canada. Carbon dioxide concentrations and emissions were mapped at block level (100 × 100 m). Our measured emissions agreed generally with a fine-scale independent emissions inventory.