NASA wants to watch the Earth breathe with its OCO-2 mission

NASA’s first spacecraft dedicated to measuring carbon dioxide levels in Earth’s atmosphere is in final preparations for a July 1 launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base. The Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 mission will provide a more complete, global picture of the human and natural sources of carbon dioxide, as well as their “sinks,” the natural ocean and land processes by which carbon dioxide is pulled out of Earth’s atmosphere and stored. Carbon dioxide, a critical component of Earth’s carbon cycle, is the leading human-produced greenhouse gas driving changes in Earth’s climate. “Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere plays a critical role in our planet’s energy balance and is a key factor in understanding how our climate is changing,” said Michael Freilich, director of NASA’s Earth Science Division in Washington. “With the OCO-2 mission, NASA will be contributing an important new source of global observations to the scientific challenge of better understanding our Earth and its future.”

Carbon dioxide plays a vital role in our planet’s life, bearing responsibility for the greenhouse effect that makes the Earth temperate and habitable. Of course, it’s possible to have too much of a good thing, in which case CO2 becomes a very bad thing. Excess carbon dioxide produced by humans is indeed starting to affect the Earth’s climate, though ambiguities remain. And so NASA is poised to launch its Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2, or OCO-2, a new spacecraft that will create a global picture of the effects of this excess carbon on our atmosphere. The Earth deals with atmospheric carbon dioxide naturally through “sinks”—locations where the gas is pulled from the atmosphere and trapped in oceans and in land. At the moment, less than half of the human-produced carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere stays there. Most is absorbed back into the planet. But just where these natural sinks are isn’t well understood, and the excess gas we’re producing coupled with increased deforestation is adding more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than the Earth can regulate on its own. Exactly how the Earth, through its own clever mechanisms, is handling the increased levels of carbon dioxide is what the OCO-2 mission is investigating. The spacecraft will collect the data scientists need to provide a more complete global map of Earth’s CO2 .

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Written by Alfie Joshua

Alfie Joshua is the editor at Auto in the News. Find him on Twitter, and Pinterest.

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