NASA Carbon Observatory Maps Global Concentration of Carbon Dioxide


In July this year, NASA launched a carbon dioxide-monitoring satellite in a bid to better understand how carbon dioxide moves around the planet.

The greenhouse gas is known to significantly contribute to global warming and calls have been made for countries all over the world to reduce their emissions in an effort to curb the unwanted effects of climate change, which include the rise of sea levels and crop failures.

The satellite called Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2), tracks carbon emissions from human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels as well as those that can be attributed to natural cycles.

Last week, scientists from NASA shared the first global maps of carbon dioxide in our planet's atmosphere that were created using data collected by OCO-2. The carbon dioxide maps, which were presented at the meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, included data that were gathered between Oct. 1 and Nov. 17 and showed increased atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration about southern Africa, northern Australia and eastern Brazil.

OCO-2 Deputy Project Scientist Annmarie Eldering, from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, said that increased concentration of carbon dioxide across the Southern Hemisphere is likely caused by seasonal biomass burning particularly of forests and savannas as the new maps covered a period that notably coincided with the Southern Hemisphere's spring, the time when land clearing and agricultural fires are prevalent.

Although the effects of these activities on the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide are not yet well quantified, Eldering said that additional data and measurements from OCO-2 could shed light on factors that influence the amount of the atmospheric CO2 including photosynthesis in plants that removes carbon dioxide and biomass burning which is known to release the heat-trapping gas to the atmosphere.

The carbon dioxide maps also indicate high concentration of atmospheric CO2 over the Eastern Seaboard and some parts of China indicating heavy industry on the ground. China is currently the world's leading emitter of carbon dioxide, followed by the U.S. and India.

Scientists also noted that there are differences between OCO-2's data and those rendered by NASA's most advance computer models and while these could be nailed down on errors in measurements, these could also indicate some surprises.

"Some of the differences are likely due to gaps in our current knowledge of carbon sources in certain regions -- gaps that OCO-2 will help fill in," said OCO-2's science team member Christopher O'Dell.

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