A remarkable discovery by the OCO-2 satellite shows that NASA has the technology to create a more complete picture of our climate.
As we reported recently, a gigantic spike in carbon dioxide emissions worldwide has been traced to three large tropical rain forests. But it’s the story of how scientists made the discovery that could result in a tremendous change in how we track climate change and understand the phenomenon.
The spike in greenhouse gases is the largest increase in the last 2,000 years, and scientists were able to understand more about why it happened because of a NASA satellite called the Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO-2), which is capable of mapping out greenhouse gas emissions far above the Earth.
We wouldn’t have been able to do that even a few years ago, because in the past we had to rely on field stations on land. However, most of these rain forests are so remote that it’s impossible to get a reliable field station in them, and even if we were able to, the frequent thunderstorms would distort the measurements that were recorded.
By using OCO-2, we’re able to see what’s happening far below with much greater accuracy and without interference from the Earth’s atmosphere. It’s a tremendous breakthrough that could lead to far more accurate measurements, and therefore better predictions, of climate change and how it will affect us in the future.
And OCO-2 isn’t the only satellite up there doing this kind of work. There are many other satellites doing other specialized tasks, like monitoring air pollution, watching the state of the ozone layers, measuring sea and land ice, recording the temperature of the atmosphere and oceans, and many other jobs that give us a more complete picture of our climate than we ever had before.
“These capabilities — nearly 30 years of satellite-based solar and atmospheric temperature data — helped the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change come to the conclusion in 2007 that ‘Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations,’ a NASA statement notes. “But there’s still a lot to learn about what the consequences will be. How much warmer will it get? How will sea level rise progress? NASA scientists and engineers will help answer these and other critical questions in the future.”