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Coordination Action Carbon Observation System

Final Report Summary - COCOS (Coordination action carbon observation system)

Executive summary:

Interventions to mitigate or adapt to climate change must be underpinned by scientific evidence, which in turn must be based on sound data. Measurements of the global carbon balance are critical; but current data collection is based on a loose federation of research projects with insecure funding. COCOS was coordinating the preparations for a new, coordinated network of continuous measurements that will move data collection from a research to an operational mode. Scientists have been brought together to pool their expertise, and design and implement common procedures for data collection, quality control and storage. A major objective of COCOS was to bring these sometimes, disparate groups of scientists together. We achieved this through a series of meetings. To achieve its objective COCOS organised the series of workshops shown in the table. COCOS also organised a major international conference: 'Carbon in a changing world'.

The COCOS data portal provides access to the carbon cycle data. The data portal has used the data-harvester software to create a one-stop-shop for ICOS data. Data are no longer kept in a massive central archive, but the archive is distributed among the data holders who are responsible for quality controlling and archiving their data on a long-term basis. On the interpretation, particularly using so called inverse models, COCOS made significant progress. In the inverse modelling process preferential weight is given to more accurate information. This makes it important to establish the accuracy of each input information piece. The September 2009 workshop addressed this issue for prior flux information and gathered about 50 scientists from the Transcom community. It has also evaluated the usefulness of a series of observations, including total column CO2 retrievals from space and from the surface. It has contributed to a 23-year global inversion of CO2 surface fluxes in collaboration with the MACC project of the Global monitoring for environment and security (GMES).

COCOS has collaborated with the GLOBAL CARBON project in a project to create regional-scale resolution maps of the world's carbon budget over both land and ocean. The project is known as Regional carbon cycle assessment and processes (RECCAP). RECCAP is drawing up mean regional carbon balances and the changes in those carbon balances for the period 1990-2009, for all subcontinents and ocean basins. But RECCAP is more than a mapping exercise; the underlying objective is to link the component regional budgets to the overall global budget challenging the global budget estimates with the sum of the regional fluxes. At the same time we need to understand the different processes driving the carbon cycle in different areas of the world; this is essential information if we are to predict the future evolution of atmospheric carbon concentration. More than 150 scientists from all over the world are working on RECCAP.

COCOS identified a number of emerging gaps in our knowledge of the carbon cycle, and provided new access for instance to ocean carbon data, discussed how to improve soil carbon inventories in meetings and how to improve the carbon loss from forest and savannah fires.

Through collaborating with international scientist we produced the Group on Earth observation (GEO) carbon strategy report that is widely looked upon as providing the blueprint for a global carbon observing system, both in situ and from space. COCOS has put the European carbon cycle community at the forefront of global carbon monitoring science.

Further details can be found at the website (see online) or through the coordinator Prof. Han Dolman ( via e-mail).

Project context and objectives:

Interventions to mitigate or adapt to climate change must be underpinned by scientific evidence, which in turn must be based on sound data. Measurements of the global carbon balance are critical; but current data collection is based on a loose federation of research projects with insecure funding. COCOS was coordinating the preparations for a new, coordinated network of continuous measurements that will move data collection from a research to an operational mode. Scientists have been brought together to pool their expertise, and design and implement common procedures for data collection, quality control and storage.

The purpose of COCOS was to prepare for the implementation of a new operational system dedicated to making continuous, routine measurements of Europe's carbon balance. These measurements will give the information needed to assess the changes in the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, vegetation, soil and ocean; and changes in the movement of carbon between those reservoirs. More than that it will allow us to attribute changes in the atmospheric concentration of greenhouses gases (GHG) to emission and absorption in different regions; i.e. to map the sources and sinks of the gases responsible for global warming.


- assess the status, and update where required, the essential carbon cycle variables of the Integrated Global Carbon Observation (IGCO) list of core variables;
- improve the interoperability of a priori data sets that are used in global scale inversion studies through joint activities between ecosystem and ocean bottom-up observation communities;
- perform integrated regional-scale multiple constraint assessments of the land and ocean carbon balance through the use of harmonised data sets;
- identify, narrow down uncertainties and decrease differences in emerging global data sets that are aimed at providing constraints on the vulnerability of the global carbon cycle;
- contribute to the implementation and improvement of the global observing systems by organising a large international conference to demonstrate the status and way ahead of global carbon observations in light of monitoring requirements for GEO and the implementation of future climate change mitigation commitments.

Through executing these objectives, demonstrate and strengthen European leadership in designing and operating systematic long-term carbon observations in critical regions of the globe.

Potential impact:

1. GEO related activities

The key activity of COCOS centred around its participation GEO meetings, both the technical and the plenaries and Ministerials. At the Being meeting in 2010 COCOS together with the carbon task force of Committee on Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS) prepared a showcase for the carbon observing system. A joint movie was made based on the GEO carbon strategy report and shown during the meeting.

MOVIE shown at GEO Ministerial, Being:

COCOS has been very visible during the GEO process as it was widely conceived as the leading partner in the GEO carbon task:

CL-09-03: Global carbon observation and analysis system (GEO workplan 2009-1011)

Implement a global carbon observation and analysis system addressing the three components of the carbon cycle (atmosphere, land and ocean) and providing high-quality regional information on CO2 and CH4 concentrations and emission variations. Combine observations, reanalysis and product development to develop tools for carbon tracking and carbon storage change evaluation. Build upon 2004 internationally accepted strategies and the work of the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) Global atmosphere watch (GAW) to implement the atmospheric component of those strategies.


This sub-task is led by Australia (CSIRO), France (LSCE), Italy (University of Tuscia, via e-mail), Japan (JAXA), Netherlands (University of Amsterdam), USA (NOAA, USDA/Forest Service, USGS), GTOS and WMO (GAW), and supported by the carbon cycle community of practice.

Support the development of an integrated global carbon observation system, including improved global observation networks of CO2, CH4, isotope ratios, air-surface exchange flux, surface ocean CO2 and related marine biochemistry. Encourage the development of high-resolution global and regional data-assimilation and modelling systems to enhance the utility of the spatial and temporal resolution of those observations and provide relevant regional-scale information.

The text above stems from the GEO 2009-2011 workplan. It shows how COCOS partners were responsible for co-coordination the lead of this task. Note that in this workplan separate tasks existed for forest carbon tracking and space observations. In the new task, these are integrated. Below is the new text on the 2012-2015 workplan that clearly shows the impact of COCOS participation. The coordinator attended the Pretoria meeting on preparing the new GEO workplan.

COCOS and the carbon community of practice that was coordinated from COCOS, now taken over by the new Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) project GEOCARBON, led the conception of this new task:

CL-02 Global carbon observation and analysis (GEO Workplan 2012-2015)

Task implementation is supported by the carbon community of practice related GEOSS strategic targets (from GEO-VI Document 12 Rev1).

Climate: Development and facilitation of a comprehensive (atmosphere, ocean, land) global carbon observation and analysis system in support of monitoring based decision-making and related environmental treaty obligations.

Ecosystems: Increased operational monitoring of major ecosystems on land on an annual basis, including properties such as biomass and carbon estimates of vegetation and soils based on remote sensing and sampled in-situ observations using internationally agreed standards.


Develop a comprehensive global carbon observation and analysis system integrated across the atmosphere, land and ocean (including anthropogenic) domains. Provide (i) improved estimates of carbon budget at different scales (from global to regional/national); and (ii) reliable information and products for decision makers. Improve global observation networks of CO2, CH4, isotope ratios and exchange fluxes. Develop an integrated Carbon-cycle data assimilation system (CCDAS). Provide communication points to increase the information flow from providers to users, and disseminate current state-of-the-art information.

C1. Integrated global carbon observation and analysis system


Australia (CSIRO), China (Beijing Normal University), EC (FP7), France (LSCE), Italy (CMCC, University of Tuscia, Japan (JAXA), Netherlands (University of Amsterdam), Norway (BCCR), UK (University of Sheffield), United States (NASA, USDA, USGS), CEOS, GTOS, WMO (GAW).

Priority actions

- Improve information and products. Improve the resolution and accuracy of carbon budgets at different scales, particularly the regional one. Provide annual updates of the carbon balance for key regions. Provide harmonised global carbon information based upon existing observations (land, ocean, atmosphere and human dimension) and model integration.
- Provide communication points to increase the information flow from providers to users, and disseminate current state-of-the-art information to decision-makers and the international community. Create a carbon portal linked to the GEO portal.
- Improve global carbon observation networks. Produce a catalogue of current observation systems and datasets. Perform gap analyses of current monitoring systems and identify options to improve the coordination of global observing systems. Promote quantity and quality of measurements of carbon pools and fluxes, considering both CO2 and CH4. Design an optimal observational network for an operational global carbon observing system.
- Develop a CCDAS ingesting data from multiple sources at different scales (in-situ and satellite observations of atmospheric, terrestrial and oceanic domains). Develop user-oriented geo-information tools, databases and models integrating data from different sources. Maintain and update a geo-referenced database of all available data.

Promote space-based measurements. Routinely provide space-based GHG data and products for CO2 and CH4 (e.g. based on GOSAT, SCHIAMACHY, AIRS, TES, and IASI measurements). Validate GHG observations from space. Identify gaps in the current satellite missions and consolidate data requirements for the next-generation of GHG monitoring missions. Improve biomass estimates from remote sensing.

Design CEOS activities in response to the GEO carbon strategy report

All infrastructure and institutions and development tasks resources available for implementation (tentative and preliminary)

- European FP7 and GMES projects: GEOCARBON (8.6 MEUR for 3 years, starting Nov 2011), CARBOCHANGE, and MACC-II.
- Resources allocated to FLUXNET and other regional flux networks (such as the Asia Flux network observing CO2 fluxes in forests).
- US NEON programme for a comprehensive Terrestrial carbon data assimilation system (TCDAS); Open community resources developed following the open and collaborative model of the NCAR Community Earth system model (CESM).
- EEA activities related to GHG emissions monitoring and reporting, and European carbon accounting case-study for United Nations STATISTICS DIVISION (UNSD) System of Integrated Environmental-Economic Accounting (SEEA).
- Japanese GHG observing satellite GOSAT (providing e.g. datasets of CO2 global distribution).

2. The GEO carbon strategy

The GEO carbon strategy describes in detail the scientific needs, the strategy, the implementation, and the required actions in order to build up and maintain a global carbon observation system. The workshops and meetings carried out under COCOS were important stepping stones for providing the input to the report. The report is the adequacy report as specified under deliverable D1.4. The report also provides a series of recommendations on measurement networks, measurement gaps to be closed, scaling techniques for observations with respect to larger regions, new space missions, access to data sets, geospatial data information, data set architecture, and management/governance of carbon observing systems. The report is a substantial step forward towards an integrated carbon observing system following an Earth system approach and involving all key international research communities.

GEO carbon strategy: executive summary

Understanding the global carbon cycle, and predicting its evolution under future climate scenarios is one of the biggest challenges facing science today; there are huge societal implications. The uncertainty in the natural sinks of the carbon cycle is a major contributor to the uncertainty in climate predictions. The feedbacks between climate change and the carbon reservoirs are not well known or understood. The spatial and temporal distribution of natural sinks over land and oceans remains elusive, which precludes better quantification of their underlying mechanisms and drivers. In addition to natural sinks, anthropogenic emissions from fossil fuel burning and land use change need to be known at regional level and with better accuracy. These uncertainties must be reduced to underpin well-informed, evidence-based policy action.

A key reason for our lack of understanding of the global carbon cycle is the dearth of global observations. An increased, improved and coordinated observing system for observing the carbon cycle is a prerequisite to gaining that understanding.

This report sets out a number of key actions that build on a strategy to expand the current observations into a fully integrated observation system measuring the essential parameters and variables. Some actions are already being carried out, while others still need to be addressed and implemented.

Completing an IGCO within the GEO and the global climate observing system (GCOS) will involve thousands of scientists, technicians, agency representatives and policy makers. One key element of an IGCO system is the provision of communication points to facilitate the flow of information from the data providers to the data users. These communication points will also acts as nodes for summarising and disseminating the current state-of-the-art information.

The main recommendations are to:

- increase the density of in situ networks, in particular for stations and aircraft atmospheric observations, ocean pCO2 observing systems using Voluntary Observing Ships, and eddy covariance terrestrial ecosystem flux measurement networks;
- develop space measurements of global CO and CH distributions, to fill the gap after GOSAT and SCIAMACHY;
- develop spatial scaling techniques for pCO and land flux observations for application to wider regions, using satellite information;
- undertake a decadal full basin survey of ocean carbon state, together with regular inventories of forest biomass and soil carbon pools;
- improve access to a continuous supply of mid-resolution Earth observing satellite data (i.e. LAI, FAPAR, disturbance, land cover change), to monitor areas of forest;
- develop space measurements of vegetation 3-dimensional structure to improve estimates of global terrestrial aboveground biomass and carbon stocks and continue the observational data streams started with JERS-1, ALOS PALSAR, and ICESat;
- develop new space missions and satellite products to improve estimation of carbon capture and export in the ocean;
- improve access to geospatial and temporal fossil fuel emission information, including spatial-data infrastructure;
- assemble geospatial information about use of wood and food products, and continuously monitored dissolved and particulate carbon, if possible with age information, for relevant rivers;
- implement a data architecture that facilitates the combination of different data-streams;
- establish an International carbon office to operate a program to produce annually updated regional and global carbon budgets.

3. Small meetings and workshops

In addition series of successful small meetings and workshops were held. These proved to be extremely useful in order to pave the way for standardisation and harmonisation of data sets and respective methods for synthesising heterogeneous data sets on various carbon variables. The workshops were mostly disciplinary and focussed on specific variables, groups of variables, or carbon cycle processes and respectively relevant data sets. The meetings and workshops enabled also a significantly improved communication among the various carbon data set stakeholders. The small meetings and workshops included (see also the list as posted on the internet under online). Importantly they established main contacts with key scientist in the field from outside the EU and strengthened the visibility of the EU carbon cycle research community.

4. COCOS website and carbon data portal:

The COCOS website (see online) functions as the key mechanism of information of COCOS products. The COCOS data portal (see online and see deliverable D1.5 of WP1) is the one stop shop to important carbon datasets. The COCOS data portal is registered as a Global Earth observation system of systems (GEOSS) component and service making it searchable through the GEOSS public search interface.

The COCOS data portal was established in order to give scientists an easy access possibility to different cutting edge data sets provided by various data centres. The portal can be ported to and extended by other projects and thus can be fully exploited by future actions. The COCOS carbon data portal is available on the internet at the following address:

5. Vulnerability assessment tool

The vulnerability assessment tool is a simplified version of the model described in the vulnerability report (D4.4). Users can specify reference and target conditions of climate, land use, and soil conditions. The tool, like the model, calculates the probability distribution of differences in the carbon stock between reference and target scenarios. The tool can either be run on a local computer with full access to all parameters or as an expert-system via a WWW interface. Since the WWW version is rather slow due to the complexity of the model, a faster version, producing the probability distribution of either reference or target carbon stock and a graphical comparison, is also available. The tool is currently implemented on a webserver and linked to the COCOS and GEOCARBON websites.

6. Brochure

A special brochure was produced towards the end of the project, outlining the strategy of COCOS and presenting the main results. The brochure is written for the general public and easy to read. It can be downloaded from the COCOS website.

7. International Collaborations

COCOS established an effective collaboration with the RECCAP initiative for the regional carbon cycle assessment and processes, RECCAP is an international initiative led by the 'Global carbon' project (GCP) to establish the mean carbon balance and change over the period 1990-2009 for main regions and ocean basins.

From that collaboration two main global events were organised in order to contribute to the achievements of the WP3 objectives:

3. The international workshop 'Regional carbon cycle assessment on land and oceans', Viterbo, Italy, 6-8 October 2010.
4. The international workshop 'Regional carbon cycle assessment and processes: synthesis' Shepherdstown, United States, 23-27 May 2011.

A special issue on RECCAP, edited by J. Canadell, P. Ciais, C. Sabine, and F. Joos, is already in press in the scientific journal Biogeosciences (see online),. It contains 14 papers on the regional carbon budgets of 10 terrestrial regions (Africa, Arctic tundra, Australia, Europe, Russia, East Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, Central and South America, and North America) and 4 ocean regions (Atlantic and Arctic, Indian, Pacific, and Southern Ocean). In addition, 8 global syntheses support the regional budgets and their integration into the global picture. In addition a few high-level syntheses papers reporting key results, shall be published in Nature-Geosciences or Nature-Climate Change, or same level journals.

During the series of small meeting contacts with other international players and organisations were further developed. This has resulted in a number of joint initiatives, particularly around the writing of the GEO carbon strategy (a series of other papers is now planned), and the production of the GEO carbon Movie at the Being GEO Ministerial. The GEO carbon strategy is currently under review by the CEOS, a joint group of the major space agencies.

8. Harmonised common approach to integration of multiple data streams for ocean carbon budgets

COCOS significantly contributed to the recent efforts to harmonise the reporting in standardised units and on common scales, by promoting the establishment of mechanisms for consistency checking of units and scales. For the interior ocean carbon measurements, a MatLab toolbox for secondary quality control has been developed and published on CDIAC (Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, United States, see online). The purpose of this toolbox is to assure consistency of the data within and across existing different interior ocean data collections. For the surface pCO2 measurements, an international effort had commenced in 2007 to combine all publicly available sea surface pCO2 measurements in one data set, convert all into uniform formats, and rigorously quality control the data. Secondary quality control was aided by the Live Access Server (LAS, NOAA/PMEL, United States) and MatLab routines developed. Participants of COCOS have significantly contributed to this effort, including a workshop at UEA in June 2009, and version 1.5 containing measurements until end of 2007, has been made publically available in September 2011 under the Surface Ocean CO2 Atlas (SOCAT, see online, Bakker et al., 2011). Data can be viewed online, or downloaded as individual voyages or gridded products. Work has commenced on the creation of the next version of SOCAT, including all data until end 2010, to be made public in 2012. The Surface Ocean CO2 ATlas (SOCAT, see online) has been made public in September 2011, after a huge international effort and with a significant contribution by COCOS.

A number of very important integrated global datasets of carbon parameters in the ocean have been produced by the carbon community during the lifetime of the COCOS project. This includes the data products GLODAP (see online), CARINA (see online), PACIFICA (see online), SOCAT (see online) and the LDEO pCO2 dataset (see online). All these products contain global or basin-wide data compilations of various carbon parameters, which have been put through stringent quality control and intercomparison procedures by leading experts in the field. As a result, these products represent the most complete and highest quality carbon datasets currently available. The datasets are heavily used by observationalists and modellers alike.

These datasets have been converted to Ocean data view (ODV) data collection format allowing instant analysis and visualisation of the entire data packages with the ODV software. ODV has rapidly growing user community of currently more than 23 000 registered users.

Results from the project were disseminated at strategic meetings, events and to critical decision makers will be established at the beginning of the project and updated on a half-yearly basis. This ensured that the COCOS project was highly visible, that all project partners know about important events and can take an active role in dissemination, and that the information provided is consistent and useful.

9. European leadership

The most crucial element in successful dissemination and integration was the production of the GEO carbon strategy. In this report a synthesis was prepared of the implementation status of the carbon related GEO core variables and future priorities in C observations, agreed globally among researchers and global observation programs.

The results were presented at key meetings and through close links with GCP project in WP3 on the regional analysis we ensured that COCOS results were disseminated appropriately.

A special paper in International Innovation (2011, Issue 1, pp. 77 - 79) provided input into the role of COCOS in coordinating carbon observations to a wide community of stakeholders.

Final conference

UNITUS with VUA led the organisation of the final conference targeted at > 200 participants to demonstrate the status and way ahead of global carbon observations in light of monitoring requirements for GEO and the implementation of future climate change mitigation commitments. The conference was organised at FAO, Rome for which a subcontract between FAO and UNITUS was established.

Summary GEO carbon conference: Carbon in a changing world 24-26 October 2011, Rome 208 people attended the conference. 55 speeches were given at the plenary sessions, and 67 posters where presented during the poster sessions. The participants came from all over the world. In particular the institutions from 30 countries out of all the continents were represented. Almost 2 / 3 of them were from Europe, around 10 % from America, and another 10 % from Africa, Asia and Oceania all together. The remaining 15 % were from international organisations, namely FAO, GEO, EC, JRC, ESA, UNEP and UNFCCC.

The conference was organised around three sessions, aimed at providing an overview of the progress in implementing a global carbon observing system, the data fusion and how these observations and analyses feedback to policy and society.

In the opening speeches, speakers of FAO and the European Commission illustrated the relevance of carbon observations for agriculture, forest and climate. Other speakers emphasised the continuing growth of our emissions, rapidly after the decline of the financial crisis. Also the feedback of the carbon cycle to climate was emphasised, particularly the unknowns, such as respiration response and disturbance increase. Speakers stressed the need for a county-independent verification system that can assess from the top down (atmosphere) how well countries follow their emission reduction pledges. There is increasing emphasis on translating the scientific results in policy relevant tools, such as quick glances, regular updates.

Interfacing carbon cycle knowledge with society, needs, uncertainties and challenges

Speakers emphasised the role of local knowledge and use of satellite data to achieve high accuracy in forest inventories. At local scale, close collaboration with active stakeholders is a requirement for successful implementation of reductions schemes. There is potential for win-win situations.

The promise of REDD+ to act as a reliable scheme was also discussed. One speaker noticed the considerable gap in objectives of land owners versus of those of policy makers in forestry, making it difficult to implement carbon sequestration schemes effectively.

Progress in data model fusion: Development of regional carbon budgets for land and ocean. Verification requirements in a post-Cancun world

Emphasis was put in adequate knowledge of soils carbon processes to understand long term sequestration. New science suggested that our traditional points of view of relatively stable pools of labile and recalcitrant carbon may not be appropriate anymore. Several speakers showed the usefulness of satellite data to monitor deforestation and regrowth.

There has been considerable progress in assimilation of carbon data in models. These models, similar to weather assimilation schemes appear increasingly able to reproduce key aspects of the carbon cycle. Careful monitoring around major cities is the next step to achieve real time verification of the GHG emissions of these cities. Recent modelling-data fusion work suggests this may be possible in the very near future.

At the regional, continental scale it appears now possible to draw up carbon budgets that show the uptake and emission behaviour of various land use types. The associated uncertainties still present major problems. Examples were shown for Europe, Russia, the Amazon, and Africa. Also, a global assessment of forest uptake showed that the terrestrial sink is largely due to increased uptake by the world forest.

Vulnerability to drought appears a major issue, particularly in a changing climate

Progress in observing techniques and methodology for land, ocean and atmosphere, including network design, space borne techniques and in situ observations.

In the ocean domain, regular observations, and increased modelling capability have improved our estimates of the ocean's carbon budgets. Trade flow and lateral exchange from the land through the rivers to the oceans, gets increasing attentions, and is conceived of as important.

Merging of carbon cycle models with radar retrievals of forest biomass data suggests ways forward to monitor changes in forest biomass from space.

There is an increasing recognition that data from space and in situ are complementary. This has led to some studies that were able to detect changes in carbon budget of several areas, including cities. The development of the CEOS evaluation of the GEO carbon strategy will yield new plans for future mission and identify gaps.

The GEO Carbon Strategy, as coordinated by COCOS, is now a well-accepted document in the community providing guidance to future implementation of a carbon observing network. Overall there appeared to be significant progress in our observing capability, our ability to handle the data in assimilation schemes, 3) understanding the behaviour of carbon in soils and the ability to provide carbon budgets of large cities and regions. Several participants suggested to improve the visibility of European carbon research in the context of GEO and GEOSS by supporting in the near future a GEO CARBON office with a global dimension.

Project website: http:/