Editorial: Carbon Prints

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Published: December 23, 2014 12:39:56 AM

With Nasa’s OCO-2 mission, it gets easier to monitor CO2 emission and gauge heat sinks’ capacities

The first global CO2 concentration maps sent by Nasa’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) satellite, a carbon monitoring mission, have generated considerable excitement in the community of climate-change watchers, including scientists across the world. The OCO-2, a successor mission to 2009’s failed OCO mission, maps CO2 concentrations as the greenhouse gas circles the globe.

The OCO-2 is geared to measure atmospheric CO2 concentrations with enough precision to ascertain how and where exactly human activity and natural systems are affecting emission and absorption of the gas. It is believed to map the emission at a much higher resolution than similar probes, thereby detecting even minute changes in concentration. The first images generated by the mission have shown the highest concentrations of CO2 over large parts of Brazil and southern Africa, as well as the eastern coast of China and the Far East, with high concentrations detected over North America and Europe.

While the concentration of CO2 in Africa could stem from the burning of the forests and the savannah grasslands, climate scientists believe, the concentrations over the developed world is mostly because of human activity. Incidentally, India, which developed countries often club with China as a major emitter of CO2, shows a much lesser concentration, even over its industrialised southern and western states. Much of the promise of the OCO-2 mission lies in facilitating scientists’ understanding of the natural systems, including oceans and vegetation, which absorb as much as 50% of the C02 in the atmosphere. Given human activity has been dumping nearly 40 billion tonnes of CO2 every year and the present concentration of the gas is the highest in millions of years, scientists fear that the natural systems may be losing their capacity to absorb the pollution.

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