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Vulcan Project Reveals U.S. Carbon Emissions in New Detail


A team of scientists from Purdue, Colorado State, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have released the first version of Project Vulcan, including detailed maps of carbon emissions in the U.S. for the year 2002. To get an idea of what’s in this fantastic new source of data, check out the project’s YouTube video. One can imagine all sorts of interesting applications of this information.

Although the creators — led by Kevin Gurney of Purdue — generated the data primarily as a tool for expanding scientific exploration of human influence on the carbon cycle, there are sure to be other uses in the social sciences and public policy. The maps, for example, give us the best look yet at the spatial distribution of emissions in the U.S., allowing us to think about areas where the introduction of clean technologies or energy conservation would have the biggest CO2 bang for the buck. That’s not an insignificant issue, because using limited clean technology funds most efficiently must be a priority.

If the methodology can be extended to countries other than the U.S. — as envisioned in Vulcan’s sister project named Hestia — then finding least-cost, highest-mitigation solutions will become easier. It may be that the most effective and efficient use of scarce mitigation funds is not in the U.S. or Europe but, instead, in more rapidly developing societies where the technological status quo is much dirtier and rate of growth in emissions far higher. Detailed spatial data is required to provide a complete answer.

In the vein of CARMA, Vulcan is also a tool for public education and awareness. For example, California — a relatively clean locale in terms of power plant emissions — shows a much dirtier profile once Vulcan’s data on transporation emissions is included. Indeed, one can see emissions clustering around the state’s major transporation and commute routes. And given that some of the Vulcan data is available in hourly time-steps, you can see your region “inhale and exhale” CO2 as people head to work and factories fire up.

All in all, Vulcan is an excellent complement to the CO2 disclosure process and one we hope CARMA users take a look at.

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[...] condition. Interestingly, using CO2 emissions as a proxy for air quality is the inverse of the Vulcan Project’s methodology, which maps CO2 emissions using air quality [...]