The data comes courtesy of NASA's OCO-2 satellite, which has been taking nearly 100,000 carbon dioxide measurements a day since it came online in September 2014. The satellite is the first of its kind to measure the sources and sinks of carbon dioxide from space. That means it can show where carbon pollution is coming from and how much of it is being taken up by oceans and forests (and how much remains in the atmosphere).
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Combine that data with weather models run on NASA supercomputers, and voila, you have one of the most in-depth views of carbon dioxide around the planet.
"We are trying to build the tools needed to provide an accurate picture of what's happening in the atmosphere and translating that to an accurate picture of what's going on with the flux," Lesley Ott, a carbon cycle scientist at NASA working on the OCO-2 data, said in a press release. "There's still a long way to go, but this is a really important and necessary step in that chain of discoveries about carbon dioxide."
Understanding the sources of carbon pollution is important for climate negotiations as well as regional plans for how to reduce it. And knowing where carbon dioxide is being taken up is just as important.
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There are concerns that some sinks that absorb carbon dioxide could lose their ability to sequester carbon as the climate changes. The Amazon rainforest, for example, sucks up about a quarter of all carbon dioxide absorbed by vegetation, but there are signs that a drying trend has been hampering that ability.
The data coming from OCO-2 is another tool scientists have to monitor changes in the Amazon as well as other forests and oceans around the globe. With carbon dioxide passing crucial milestones this year and unlikely to slow in the near future, those efforts will be all the more important for knowing what comes next for our planet.
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