Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Trust But Verify

In the late 70s when I was working on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, CTBT, in the Carter Administration, the issue was how did one verify that the other side was not cheating. The problem was that large explosions could be monitored but small ones could not, easily. One needed many small seismographs located all over and some were even in Soviet territory.

But frankly that was the hard part. One you had the sensors there in country so that you could fairly well determine if a violation had occurred. Violations were simply an explosion of a weapon, a low yield and low profile weapon. We knew the seismic signatures and thus with high predictability we could make a definitive determination if an single event occurred.

But CO2 emissions, and total CO2 caps in turn, present a dramatically more complex problem. It is not one smokestack, not one city, not one type of event, it is an entire social system, a total ecosystem. It is a complex society and its total emissions or sources less sinks! We do not yet fully understand the physics of this, no less the chemistry, but we now want to monitor it by some less than precise manner and thus control a country's total economy. And just how was that to be accomplished?

NASA was to have launched a satellite almost a year ago and at the time as described by Reuters a year ago it was:

"The $278 million program launches its satellite on Feb. 23. For two years, the satellite will cover all of the Earth every 16 days. During each 16-day cycle, the satellite will take 8 million measurements of carbon dioxide.

Japan this month launched a satellite to measure carbon dioxide and methane, another greenhouse gas. Both launches come as about 190 nations try to agree on a successor climate change treaty to the Kyoto Protocol, which binds wealthy nations -- not including the United States -- to emissions targets through 2012.

NASA said the Japanese and U.S. satellites use different technology, fly in different orbits, and have slightly different missions. The Japanese satellite is focused on monitoring sources of carbon dioxide for treaties, while the U.S. effort focuses on what happens to the gas.

The U.S. technology measures light bounced off the planet. Carbon dioxide absorbs light in some frequencies, so the less light detected, the higher the concentration of carbon."

However the satellite, the Orbiting Carbon Observatory or OCO in NASA speak, failed it launch. As stated by NASA:

"A NASA panel that investigated the unsuccessful Feb. 24 launch of the Orbiting Carbon Observatory, or OCO, has completed its report.

NASA's OCO satellite to study atmospheric carbon dioxide launched aboard a Taurus XL rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Feb. 24 at 1:55 a.m. PST, but it failed to reach orbit.

The Mishap Investigation Board led by Rick Obenschain, deputy director at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., verified that the Taurus launch vehicle fairing failed to separate upon command. The fairing is a clamshell structure that encapsulates the satellite as it travels through the atmosphere. The failure to shed the fairing mass prevented the satellite from reaching its planned orbit and resulted in its destruction.

The board identified four potential causes that could have resulted in the fairing not separating:

-- A failure of the frangible joint subsystem. A frangible joint is an explosive device that provides instantaneous separation of flight vehicle structures while maintaining confinement of explosive debris.
-- A failure in the electrical subsystem that prevented sufficient electrical current to initiate the required ordnance devices.
-- A failure in the pneumatic system, which supplies pressure to thrusters which separate the fairing.
-- A cord snagged on a frangible joint side rail nut plate. "

NASA has announced additional flights but funding is a concern. As announced in Nature today:

"The US Congress is ratcheting up demands for NASA to launch Earth-monitoring satellites that could help to verify the emissions targets currently being debated in Copenhagen...In a US$447-billion spending bill approved on 13 December (see Table 1), lawmakers told NASA to spend $50 million in fiscal year 2010 on a replacement for the Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO), which crashed into the ocean near Antarctica in February after a rocket failure. "It looks like there is a future here," says David Crisp, the mission's principal investigator at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. But by adding the OCO to NASA's already long list of Earth-science missions — and with no promise of future funding — some Earth scientists worry that Congress is asking the agency to do too much. Berrien Moore, director of Climate Central, a think tank in Princeton, New Jersey, says that he was both "pleased and worried" by the OCO funding because of the additional burden on the mission programme.

By measuring levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, the OCO could provide baseline emissions data and act as a proof-of-concept that carbon sources and sinks can be monitored from space. The observatory would measure CO2 changes to a precision of 1 part per million at a resolution of about 3 square kilometres — nearly 30 times that of the Japanese Greenhouse gases Observing Satellite ... which launched in January. Replacing the OCO will cost about the same as the original $280-million mission, says Crisp; if funding continues to be granted, the observatory could be launched as early as 2013.

That would require a much bigger budget for fiscal year 2011, but because NASA is one of several science agencies not included in a targeted doubling of basic-science funding ... it may well face a flat budget next year. "Or worse," says Moore."

Now for the current issues and Copenhagen. The NY Times reports the disagreement with the US and China on this very issue, verification. The article states:

"And the Chinese refusal to accept verification measures could also lead to calls for punitive tariffs on Chinese goods coming into the United States. The House bill allows for the imposition of tariffs on goods from countries that do not constrain their carbon output. A group of 10 Democratic senators wrote to Mr. Obama two weeks ago warning that the Senate would not ratify any treaty that did not protect American industry from foreign competitors who do not have to meet global warming emissions limits.

That threat could, paradoxically, help drive the Chinese to cement a deal here, an American official said. “Their No. 1 motivation is to avoid border tariffs,” the official said."

Or it could drive the Chinese towards a Japanese position in 1936-1941! The Chinese have a reasonable position for a country which is developing. Verification has and will remain a sticky point if it requires access to the sovereign territory of a nation. Especially is such intrusion would by necessity have to be as excessive as one imagine for CO2 monitoring. Japan did not like the pushing around it got in the 1930s and that in some ways led to the ability of the military to take control. I am NOT saying that the US forced Japan into its grossly immoral acts but that it may very well have set the stage for those who did.

Hopefully we are not as reckless with China, a nation which holds our debt! Verification is always intrusive. It means that you do not trust the other. That may be true but ironically the level of trust must be high before verification can work Ironic, but the old "trust but verify" of Reagan was really the equivalent of the old dictum, "Don't trust anyone, not even your father!"