Carbon Observatory Heads Into Orbit
After a scrubbed launch attempt yesterday, NASA successfully launched the Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO-2, pictured at right) early this morning. This new science satellite will provide a global picture of human and natural sources of carbon dioxide, and will also help to quantify carbon dioxide sinks—places on Earth that naturally pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.
Currently, less than half the carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted into Earth's atmosphere by human activities stays there. Some of the extra carbon dioxide is absorbed by Earth’s oceans. Natural land sinks take up the rest, but the amounts taken up at various locations on the Earth’s surface are not well understood. "Quantifying these sinks now will help us predict how fast CO2 will build up in the future," said Michael Gunson, OCO-2 project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "Data from this mission will improve the accuracy of global climate change predictions."
OCO-2 detects carbon dioxide using onboard spectrometers. These devices work by spreading sunlight into its constituent colors. Carbon dioxide reveals itself by absorbing certain colors as sunlight crosses through the atmosphere. In this way, OCO-2 will dramatically increase the resolution of carbon dioxide observations, collecting hundreds of thousands of measurements each day. These measurements will be combined with data from ground stations, aircraft, and other satellites to help answer key questions about carbon dioxide and climate change. Observations are slated to begin in about 45 days.