A Global Sensor Network Launches to Fight Climate Change

The company behind the sometimes-annoying WeatherBug app has emerged with a new plan to build what it says will be the world’s largest global sensor network to track green house gas emissions. On Wednesday, WeatherBug parent AWS Convergence Technologies announced it’s rebranding as Earth Networks and will invest $25 million into building a sensor network with an initial 100 green house gas observing stations.

Yeah, it’s not exactly what I expected from the almost two-decade-old firm which has, until now, built a business around its 8,000 weather tracking stations. But Earth Networks has already partnered with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and has launched the first green house gas observation station in the network at Scripps.

There are a handful of these types of green house gas emissions observation stations in the world today, and the first was deployed by Scripps at the Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii in 1958. (Check out this excellent article in the New York Times (s nyt) last month on the Mauna Loa tracking station). But Earth Networks says these observation stations aren’t networked together and don’t provide a global picture of emissions in enough detail and in real time.

The Earth Network will track both carbon and methane emissions and many of the observation stations will be built on tall towers and high up locations. The data that comes out of the sensor network will be used to provide detailed reports and will also be integrated into the WeatherBug app, so companies, governments, municipalities and consumers can check out the data. You can also observe some of it live online.

Earth Networks is initially working with Picarro, a Sunnyvale, Calif.-based startup that sells $50,000 greenhouse gas-detecting sensor boxes. The analyzers are about the size of a desktop PC, and they work by firing laser beams into the air to determine concentrations of green house gases, and then measure the changes in wavelength signals. While the technology has existed in labs for decades, Picarro has stuffed all this measuring capability into a portable, 58-pound box of sensors that requires little maintenance.

The global sensor network will be an important tool for fighting climate change, but how commercially successful the operation will be, I’m not sure. No doubt if the U.S. ever passes carbon legislation, and if the U.N.’s green house gas negotiations make progress in the next few years, more governments and companies will want to pay Earth Networks to access its green house gas data.

Earth Networks did manage to build up weather-based services around its weather tracking stations, and the same type of products and applications will be needed for green house gas emissions data. In recent years, as AWS, Earth Networks started to sell its weather data to smart grid companies and utilities. The barrier to entry for Earth Network’s competitors is the $25 million worth of observation stations, but the intelligence of the network will come from the algorithms that sort through the emissions data.

To learn more about tools and companies that are hard at work crunching this type of so-called “big data,” come check out our Big Data conference in New York on March 23. I’ll be there.

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