NASA pinpoints cause of Earth's recent record carbon dioxide spike

13 October, 2017, 19:39 | Author: Darnell Taylor

But those dry conditions created massive forest and peat fires, which drove the carbon increases there, according to the NASA observations. The team also added that these studies would help them to understand the future changes in climate.

In 2015 and 2016, NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) satellite recorded spikes in the levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration.

Human-caused carbon dioxide emissions were roughly flat in 2014, 2015 and 2016, but National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration figures show that 2015 saw a rise in carbon in the air 3.03 parts per million, the largest since scientists started tracking emissions in Hawaii in 1959.

Excess heat and drought related to El Nino in the tropics of South America, Africa and Indonesia "were responsible for the record spike in global carbon dioxide", NASA said in a statement. This made the scientists conclude that El Nino might have driven the carbon emissions owing to less rainfall in South America and hot temperatures in Africa. These conditions led to a lower level of photosynthesis, as trees and plants absorbed less carbon.

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In tropical Asia, the increased carbon release was mostly due to biomass burning. The phenomenon affects the weather worldwide and may last for years at a time. Liu combined OCO-2 data with other satellite data to understand details of the natural processes causing each tropical region's response.

The team compared the 2015 findings to those from a reference year - 2011 - using carbon dioxide data from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite (GOSAT). "OCO-2 data allowed us to quantify how the net exchange of carbon between land and atmosphere in individual regions is affected during El Nino years", said the lead author of the study Junjie Liu of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, reported IANS.

Another study that was part of a collection of five on the topic in Science, found "striking" seasonal changes in the carbon cycle across the Northern Hemisphere.

"During the winter, however, carbon uptake by plants is minimal, while the breakdown or decay of plant material feeds carbon back into the atmosphere". With its impressive collection of observational capabilities, OCO-2 will enable measurements of atmospheric Carbon dioxide to be made with sufficient precision, resolution, and coverage to faithfully characterize its sources and sinks globally over the seasonal cycle, a long-standing goal in atmospheric and climate science.

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