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NIST Greenhouse Gas Measurements and Climate Research Program Overview
Earth's climate is changing. But to get a clear assessment of these changes, scientists need to be sure that the vast amounts of climate data they collect are accurate. Accuracy is critical to the comparison of measurement results obtained in widely separated locations and at different times. Such results are often the basis for developing greater insights into the chemical and physical phenomena that cause our climate to change. Accurate measurements enable scientists to draw reliable conclusions. A stable, internationally-recognized frame of reference, such as the International System of Units (SI), provides the basis both for data comparability and for international acceptance of measurement results and insights concerning climatic behaviors. The work begun by Charles D. Keeling of Scripps Institution of Oceanography is an exceptional example of the value to the climate science community of a data record founded on close attention to methodologies that ensure accurate measurement results over long periods.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has a unique role among the organizations involved in climate research: It is working with industry and many other government agencies – NASA, NOAA, DOE, USGS, EPA, USDA, and NSF – to ensure the accuracy, comparability, and quality of greenhouse gas emissions and climate measurements. NIST is working to improve the accuracy of methods used to allocate the sources of human-derived carbon emissions to and removals from the atmosphere and to provide a range of measurement standards important to climate research.
In the 2011 Federal budget, NIST has $12.5 million allocated for greenhouse gas emissions measurement research.
Recently, NIST's Congressionally mandated role in climate science has expanded to include:
NIST Greenhouse Gas Measurements
In addition to these goals, NIST scientists have proposed a system for classifying sources of human-generated greenhouse gas emissions according to their size. This system, illustrated below, may be useful in the conceptualization of a national system for emissions reduction and verification.
The Dimensions of the Quantitative Greenhouse Gas Emissions Measurements and Validation Challenge
NIST seeks to advance greenhouse gas measurements and standards as the foundation to improve U.S. capabilities for better quantifying emissions from a range of sources, and similarly the effect of sinks, or "offsets", comprised of areas containing forests and wetlands. NIST standards work also supports other monitoring efforts that may help future verification efforts.
The breadth of such an effort requires NIST to work closely with industry, other Federal agencies, and the states. Working collaboratively, NIST will enhance international acceptance of U.S. measurement standards and methods as a foundation for quantitative, science-based greenhouse gas emission inventories and offsets. Its main greenhouse gas measurements and climate science research program objectives include:
 National Aeronautics and Space Administration, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Department of Energy, U.S. Geological Survey, Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and National Science Foundation.