NASA Mission to Help Unravel Key Carbon, Climate Mysteries

Jan 29, 2009
NASA Mission to Help Unravel Key Carbon, Climate Mysteries
This is an artist’s concept of the Orbiting Carbon Observatory. Image credit: NASA

( -- NASA's first spacecraft dedicated to studying atmospheric carbon dioxide is in final preparations for a Feb. 23 launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Carbon dioxide is the leading human-produced greenhouse gas driving changes in Earth's climate.

The Orbiting Carbon Observatory will provide the first complete picture of human and natural carbon dioxide sources as well as their "sinks," the places where carbon dioxide is pulled out of the atmosphere and stored. It will map the global geographic distribution of these sources and sinks and study their changes over time. The measurements will be combined with data from ground stations, aircraft and other satellites to help answer questions about the processes that regulate atmospheric carbon dioxide and its role in Earth's climate and carbon cycle.

Mission data will help scientists reduce uncertainties in predicting future carbon dioxide increases and make more accurate climate change predictions. Policymakers and business leaders can use the data to make more informed decisions that improve the quality of life on Earth.

"It's critical that we understand the processes controlling carbon dioxide in our atmosphere today so we can predict how fast it will build up in the future and how quickly we'll have to adapt to climate change caused by carbon dioxide buildup," said David Crisp, principal investigator for the Orbiting Carbon Observatory at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

"OCO's carbon dioxide measurements will be pivotal in advancing our knowledge of virtually all Earth system land, atmosphere, and ocean processes," said Michael Freilich, director of NASA's Earth Science Division in Washington. "They will play crucial roles in refining our knowledge of climate forcings and Earth's response processes."

The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is determined by the balance between its sources and the sinks where it is absorbed on land and in the ocean. Human activities, particularly fossil fuel burning and deforestation, have upset Earth's carbon cycle balance. Since the Industrial Revolution began in 1750, atmospheric carbon dioxide has increased from about 280 parts per million to about 385 parts per million. Climate models indicate increased greenhouse gases have been the primary driver of Earth's increasing surface temperature.

Of all the carbon humans have added to Earth's atmosphere since the start of the Industrial Revolution, only about 40 percent has remained in Earth's atmosphere. About half of the remaining 60 percent can be accounted for in Earth's ocean. The rest must have been absorbed somewhere on land, but scientists cannot yet determine specifically where this is taking place or what controls the efficiency of these land sinks. Scientists refer to this as the "missing" carbon sink.

The new observatory will dramatically improve global carbon dioxide measurements, collecting about 8 million measurements every 16 days for at least two years with the precision, resolution and coverage needed to characterize carbon dioxide's global distribution. Scientists need these precise measurements because carbon dioxide varies by just 10 parts per million throughout the year on regional to continental scales.

The Orbiting Carbon Observatory's three high-resolution spectrometers spread reflected sunlight into its various colors like a prism. Each spectrometer focuses on a different, narrow color range, detecting light with the specific colors absorbed by carbon dioxide and molecular oxygen. The less carbon dioxide present in the atmosphere, the more light the spectrometers detect. By analyzing the amount of light, scientists can determine relative concentrations of these chemicals. The data will then be input into computer models of the global atmosphere to quantify carbon dioxide sources and sinks.

The Orbiting Carbon Observatory will be launched on a Taurus XL rocket into a 438-mile near-polar orbit. It will lead five other NASA satellites that cross the equator each day shortly after noon, making a wide range of nearly simultaneous Earth observations.

Provided by NASA

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2.3 / 5 (6) Jan 29, 2009
"...Carbon dioxide is the leading human-produced greenhouse gas driving changes in Earth's climate." shown in all computer models with inputs forced to to give this result.

Although one might be led to the conclusion that CO2 could lead to some sort of "greenhouse" effect because of it tiny absorption windows in the IR at ca. 2400/cm and ca. 650/cm there is simply NO experimental evidence showing that elevated CO2 is contributing to global warming. Lots of garbage in/CO2 warming out computer models but NO real evidence. All this in spite of years of gnashing teeth, AGW religious polemics, and $100's of millions spent (and the $100 million Gore made on his fantasy movie. Bet he's a fat and happy cat) to "study" the climate change problem.

This new "Never A Straight Answer" satellite system MAY finally give us real time CO2 numbers that will confirm or refute the one value that we have relied on as gospel - those from Mauna Loa.

I suggest those still w/ open minds start with: Journal of Scientific Exploration, Vol. 21, No. 4, pp. 723%u2013749, 2007

Now lets here some vitriol:
not rated yet Jan 30, 2009
deatopmg, you link to a journal that discusses UFO's and reactionless drives as a plausible source of explaining global warming while dismissing global warming science as "religious polemics". Does the hypocrisy of this register in your warped mind?
1 / 5 (1) Jan 30, 2009
@gmurphy What? if that is true then the JSE is on par with Gore's movie but I haven't seen JSE publishing articles about UFO's and reactionless drives causing global warming. This "claim" isn't a "the end justifies the means" distortion from an AGWer is it? Could you reference some of those JSE articles I'd love to give them a piece of my mind too.

Global warming science sic IS a religious polemic little different than the flat earth or earth centric universe polemic of the Holy Roman empire. Those church leaders thought they were doing good things for humanity too.

There is simply no good evidence that the warming (and cooling)is the result of elevated CO2 from human activity or other. The CO2 absorption band widths in the far IR where the earth re-radiates (greenhouse radiation) are small compared to water vapor. At ca. 300 ppm the 2 CO2 bands were already 95% saturated. CO2 at 300 plus or minus ppm DOES help keep the earth from being a snowball but doubling of the CO2 concentration can only result in an insignificant increase in energy absorption (greenhouse warming energy) of the re-radiated IR. Global warming science is not science just guesses, suppositions, inadequate computer models and lots of people making a living and fanning the flames of fear to make sure the cash keeps coming. But I could be wrong.

Anyway, if you don't trust the references in the JSE article checkout this one: Journal of American Physi cians and Surgeons (2007) 12, 79-90. Authors Robinson, Robinson, and Soon
not rated yet Feb 03, 2009
There will not be any study allowed to strongly disprove any popular AGW theory. This is religion, not science. Strong belief in the social theories associated with AGW generate the need to justify and reinforce the testimony of their faith. All data will be spun to reinforce AGW, stoke the hysteria, and all conclusions will fall in line with the long-term plans of the social engineers behind the climate cabal.