NASA to Tally-Up Earth's Carbon From Orbit
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The effects of global warming are frequently projected decades into the future, but two recent reports -- one from theU.S. Global Change Research Program
and the otherfrom the U.N.
-- put into sharp focus visible consequences of our warming planet. An increase in temperature, extreme weather, loss of ice and rising sea level are just a few of changes we can measure right now. Let's take a look at some of the most concerning trends.BLOG: War Of The Words: Climate Change Or Global Warming?
Glaciers are shrinking worldwide and permafrost is thawing in high-latitude and high-elevation areas, reports this year's Fifth Assessment Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.BLOG: Dire Outlook For Climate Impacts, New Report Says
Only a few extinctions are attributed to climate change, reports the IPCC, but climate change that occurred much more slowly, over millions of years, caused major ecosystem shifts and species extinctions. Land and sea animals are changing their geographic ranges and migratory patterns due to climate change.NEWS: Climate Change: Why Haven't We Done More?
Sea level around the world has increased by about 8 inches since 1880, reports the 2014 National Climate Assessment, which projects a 1 to 4 foot rise by the end of the century.PHOTOS: Craziest Environmental Ideas (That Could Work)
Massimo Brega/The Lighthouse//Vi/Visuals Unlimited/Corbis
Excess CO2 is dissolving in the ocean and decreasing the pH of seawater. The ocean is about 30 percent more acidic than it was in pre-industrial times. More acidity in the oceans makes it harder for animals to form calcium carbonate shells and skeletons and erodes coral reefs.11 Health Threats from Climate Change
The probability of a Sandy-like storm deluging New York, New Jersey and other parts of the East Coast has nearly doubled compared to 1950, according to the American Meteorological Society. Even weaker storms will be more damaging now than they were 10 years ago because of rising sea levels. Superstorm Sandy cost the nation $65 billion, according to the 2014 National Climate Assessment, and 2012's Hurricane Isaac cost $2.3 billion.
The global sea level rises along with the temperature for two major reasons. For one, heat causes water to expand, which causes the existing water to take up more space and encroach on the coast. At the same time, ice at the poles and in glaciers melts and increases the amount of water in the oceans.PHOTOS: Melting Glaciers
Across the United States, heavy downpours are on the rise, especially in the Northeast and Midwest. Increases in extreme precipitation are expected for all U.S. regions, reports the 2014 National Climate Assessment.NEWS: Shrinking Greenland Glacier Smashes Speed Record
Ted Soqui/Ted Soqui Photography/Corbis
The most recent IPCC report states with "very high confidence" that current climate-related extremes like heat waves, droughts, floods, cyclones and wildfires are showing that countries around the world, at all development levels, are significantly unprepared. The American Meteorological Society estimates that approximately 35 percent of the extreme heat in the eastern United States between March and May 2012 resulted from human activities' effects on climate. The AMS warned that deadly heat waves will become four times more likely in the north-central and northeastern United States as the planet continues to warm.NASA: Global Warming Goes On
One of the more puzzling aspects of climate change is why no matter what amount of carbon ends up in the atmosphere Earth’s plants and ocean reabsorb about half.
At least that’s been the pattern for more than 50 years, data from ground-based instruments shows.
Scientists are hoping for a new perspective on the long-standing mystery with a NASA satellite that will, for the first time, make carbon dioxide measurements globally from space.
The Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2, a replacement for a similar spacecraft lost in a 2009 launch accident, will analyze sunlight reflected off Earth for telltale chemical fingerprints of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that plays a major role in the planet’s changing temperature.
Every year about 40 billion tons of carbon ends up in Earth’s atmosphere, an amount that is increasing as the developing world modernizes, said atmospheric scientist Michael Gunson, with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.
“At the same time, we can see that we have this annual cycle of (carbon levels) dropping every summer ... as the forests and plants start to grow. This is the Earth breathing,” said Gunson, project scientist for the $465 million mission, known as OCO-2.
Dissecting the process requires lots of data and on that count OCO-2 is expected to shine. Once in orbit 438 miles above Earth, the spacecraft will collect hundreds of thousands of measurements every day. Its path around the planet will take it over the same spot at the same time every 16 days, allowing scientists to ferret out patterns in carbon dioxide levels over weeks, months and years.
The single instrument aboard OCO-2 is designed gather photons of sunlight glinting off a one-square-mile patch of ground. A grating will split the light into 1,000 different colors and the results analyzed for chemical signatures of carbon dioxide in the air.
The sampling size is small enough so that high carbon emitters may be pinpointed from orbit, information that eventually could be used for monitoring and measuring the effectiveness of policies and procedures implemented to mitigate climate change.
“In principle, we fully expect to be able to see points where there are large emissions, compared to points nearby, but this is really not a mapping mission,” OCO-2 project manager Ralph Basilio, also with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told reporters during a prelaunch press conference.
“It’s really the fate of carbon dioxide once it’s in the atmosphere that we’re trying put our finger on,” Basilio said.
“I think it’s quite remarkable over the past decades we’ve seen that half the carbon dioxide has been removed by natural processes, but we still aren’t quite sure which are the key processes involved,” he added. “Trying to get to a point of understanding the details of those processes will give us some insight into the future and what’s likely to happen over the next decades, even if we continue to consume more and more fossil fuels and emit more and more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.”
OCO-2 is slated to launch aboard a Delta 2 rocket at 5:56 a.m. EDT on July 1 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.