Autonomous ecosystem-scale technologies: SkyGas to SkyLine

Cutting-edge technology developed at York is providing detailed greenhouse gas emissions data.


Dr James Stockdale, project co-lead from the Department of Environment and Geography, explains: “Limitations to our knowledge mean that discussions of land management for carbon are often focused on activities such as tree planting while ignoring the hidden complexity of flows of GHGs in and out of soils.”

In order to meet the environmental and policy challenge of human-induced climate change in the 21st century, there is an urgent need for quantitative information about the sources and sinks of the responsible greenhouse gases (GHGs). Unfortunately, there are serious gaps in our quantification of some major global natural sources and sinks of GHGs across a wide range of ecosystems, whether natural or highly-managed agricultural sites. These limitations to our knowledge are largely a reflection of the necessary technologies for making the measurements.

Technological advancements are needed, not only in the development of spectroscopic techniques used in the next generation of gas analysers, but also in the development of robust, field-ready platforms to enable real-world measurements by scientists across the globe.

Aims and objectives

Existing ecosystem-scale measurement technologies are prone to producing single integrated measurements, which reduce the ability to undertake robust experiments at this ecosystem scale. In response, the development of SkyGas and SkyLine measurement systems at York aims to produce robust technologies which are able to continuously monitor GHG sources and sinks across multiple locations to enable the testing of specific hypotheses in various landscapes.

SkyLine In Action

This timelapse video shows SkyLine measuring greenhouse gas flows from soils and open water in a forested location.

Findings and outcomes so far

Five NERC-funded projects (totalling more than £0.8M) have helped to develop and use these novel technologies to autonomously monitor GHGs in a range of ecosystem-scale experiments:

  1. SkyGas: Development of a new technique for determining watershed/airshed gas fluxes 
  2. The role of lateral exchange in modulating the seaward flux of Carbon, Nitrogen, Phosphorous 
  3. GREENHOUSE - Generating Regional Emissions Estimates with a Novel Hierarchy of Observations and Upscaled Simulation Experiments 
  4. Commercialisation of the greenhouse gas monitoring system SkyLine2D 
  5. Upscaling of greenhouse gas emissions from freshwater wetlands 

SkyGas and SkyLine technologies are enabling the improved temporal and spatial range of data collected in a large number of experiments and have been used in conjunction with a range of collaborators including Forest Research, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, the Universities of Copenhagen, Exeter, and Sheffield. Experiments have been made in different agricultural, forested and peatland ecosystems. The previously unobtainable environmental data which is being gathered will support environmental policy in both developed and developing countries.

In addition to the increased understanding of temporal and spatial patterns of GHG emissions through these different research projects, these highly novel technologies present a commercial opportunity through the creation of a University spin-out company which was launch in 2019.

A number of experiments run with SkyGas and SkyLine technologies are still being undertaken but early results of detailed source and sink of GHGs showed previously unseen diurnal patterns of nitrous oxide emission. In addition, the continuous measurement of a large number of discrete measurement plots in one SkyGas experiment has helped develop a new statistically-robust experimental approach. To find out more visit the SkyLine2D website

Project activities and publications

To view the research outputs of this project visit the SkyLine2D Publications webpage

Related links

To find out more visit the project website 

Principal Investigators


Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)

Related links

To find out more visit the project website