NASA launches satellite to monitor global carbon dioxide

CarbonObservatory 020714California (USA)/(ISJ) ? NASA on Wednesday (July 02) successfully launched a satellite to monitor the global distribution of carbon dioxide ? human produced greenhouse gas driving climate change.

The Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) was launched from Space Launch Complex in California onboard a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket. According to NASA, the observatory separated from the rocket after 56 minutes of the launch and successfully performed a series of activation procedures, established communications with ground controllers and unfurled its twin sets of solar arrays.

OCO-2 will begin a minimum two-year mission to locate Earth?s sources of and storage places for atmospheric carbon dioxide, responsible global warming and a critical component of the planet?s carbon cycle.

"Climate change is the challenge of our generation," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. "With OCO-2 and our existing fleet of satellites, NASA is uniquely qualified to take on the challenge of documenting and understanding these changes, predicting the ramifications, and sharing information about these changes for the benefit of society."

OCO-2 will produce the most detailed picture to date of natural sources of carbon dioxide, as well as their "sinks" -- places on Earth?s surface where carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere. The observatory will study how these sources and sinks are distributed around the globe and how they change over time.

Carbon dioxide sinks are at the heart of a longstanding scientific puzzle that has made it difficult for scientists to accurately predict how carbon dioxide levels will change in the future and how those changing concentrations will affect Earth's climate.

"Scientists currently don't know exactly where and how Earth's oceans and plants have absorbed more than half the carbon dioxide that human activities have emitted into our atmosphere since the beginning of the industrial era," said David Crisp, OCO-2 science team leader at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. "Because of this we cannot predict precisely how these processes will operate in the future as climate changes."

Precise measurements of the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide are needed because background levels vary by less than two percent on regional to continental scales. Typical changes can be as small as one-third of one percent. OCO-2 measurements are designed to measure these small changes clearly.

OCO-2 science operations will begin about 45 days after launch. Scientists expect to begin archiving calibrated mission data in about six months and plan to release their first initial estimates of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations in early 2015.

The observatory will uniformly sample the atmosphere above Earth's land and waters, collecting more than 100,000 precise individual measurements of carbon dioxide over Earth's entire sunlit hemisphere every day. Scientists will use these data in computer models to generate maps of carbon dioxide emission and uptake at Earth?s surface on scales comparable in size to the state of Colorado. These regional-scale maps will provide new tools for locating and identifying carbon dioxide sources and sinks.

Source: NASA press release

Pix. courtesy: NASA


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