The Department of Energy will assist the Mauna Loa Observatory, operated by NOAA, in achieving a net-zero carbon footprint.

DOE Awards $5 Million to Help NOAA’s Mauna Loa Observatory Achieve Net-Zero Status by January 24, 2024

On January 24, 2024, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced that it has awarded $5 million to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to support the conversion of the Mauna Loa atmospheric baseline observatory in Hawaii to a net-zero carbon facility. This funding is part of the DOE’s Assisting Federal Facilities with Energy Conservation Technologies (AFFECT) program, which provides grants to support energy and water efficiency projects at U.S. federal government-owned facilities.

The Mauna Loa Observatory, located on the island of Hawaii, is considered to be the benchmark site for monitoring the global increase in greenhouse gases that are driving climate change. However, the observatory has faced challenges in recent years due to the eruption of the Mauna Loa volcano, which buried a portion of the access road and destroyed power poles in November 2022. As a result, the observatory has been without road access and electricity.

With the help of the AFFECT program, NOAA’s Global Monitoring Laboratory will be able to purchase solar panels and battery storage systems to power the observatory with renewable energy. This will not only make the facility more resilient to future volcanic activity, but it will also eliminate carbon emissions from the facility itself.

The project has already made significant progress in restoring the observatory’s operations. Currently, approximately 33% of the atmospheric measurements on the mountain site have been restored, including consistent measurements for all of the Global Monitoring Laboratory’s primary research groups. This includes greenhouse gases, halocarbons and trace gases, ozone, global radiation, and aerosols.

According to Vanda Grubišić, the director of the Global Monitoring Laboratory, this project will allow the observatory to operate fully on renewable energy and continue to make critical measurements for understanding our changing climate. She also expressed pride in her team’s achievement in making Mauna Loa the first net-zero facility operated by NOAA.

Christine Smith, the acting Observatory and Global Network Operations Division lead, also highlighted the importance of relying on renewable energy to power the research site. She noted that this will help prevent future interruptions due to volcanic activity, which has historically occurred every six years on average.

In addition to the renewable energy systems, the Mauna Loa Observatory also uses roof collection systems to capture water needed to run the 8-acre campus. This makes it the first Department of Commerce facility to achieve net-zero status, further demonstrating NOAA’s commitment to sustainability and reducing its carbon footprint.

The AFFECT program is part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which provides funding to support energy and water efficiency projects and processes at U.S. federal government-owned facilities. With this grant, the Mauna Loa Observatory will continue to play a crucial role in monitoring and understanding the impacts of climate change on our planet.  

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