Articles | Volume 4, issue 9
Research article
23 Sep 2011
Research article |  | 23 Sep 2011

Spatial resolution of tropical terrestrial CO2 fluxes inferred using space-borne column CO2 sampled in different earth orbits: the role of spatial error correlations

P. I. Palmer, L. Feng, and H. Bösch

Abstract. We use realistic numerical experiments to assess the sensitivity of 8-day CO2 flux estimates, inferred from space-borne short-wave infrared measurements of column-averaged CO2 dry air mixing ratio XCO2, to the choice of Earth observing orbit. We focus on three orbits: (1) a low-inclination circular orbit used by the NASA Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM); (2) a sun-synchronous orbit used by the Japanese Greenhouse Gases Observing SATellite (GOSAT) and proposed for the NASA Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO-2) instrument; and (3) a precessing orbit used by the International Space Station (ISS). For each orbit, we assume an instrument based on the specification of the OCO-2; for GOSAT we use the relevant instrument specification. Sun-synchronous orbits offer near global coverage within a few days but have implications for the density of clear-sky measurements. The TRMM and ISS orbits intensively sample tropical latitudes, with sun-lit clear-sky measurements evenly distributed between a.m./p.m. For a specified spatial resolution for inferred fluxes, we show there is a critical number of measurements beyond which there is a disproportionately small decrease in flux uncertainty. We also show that including spatial correlations for measurements and model errors (of length 300 km) reduces the effectiveness of high measurement density for flux estimation, as expected, and so should be considered when deciding sampling strategies. We show that cloud-free data from the TRMM orbit generally can improve the spatial resolution of CO2 fluxes achieved by OCO-2 over tropical South America, for example, from 950 km to 630 km, and that combining data from these low-inclination and sun-synchronous orbits have the potential to reduce this spatial length further. Decreasing the length of the error correlations to 50 km, reflecting anticipated future improvements to transport models, results in CO2 flux estimates on spatial scales that approach those observed by regional aircraft.