NASA successfully launched its first spacecraft dedicated to studying atmospheric carbon dioxide at 2:56 a.m. PDT (5:56 a.m. PDT) Wednesday. Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) will be NASA’s first dedicated Earth remote sensing satellite to study atmospheric carbon dioxide from Space. OCO-2 will be collecting space-based global measurements of atmospheric CO2 with the precision, resolution, and coverage needed to characterize sources and sinks on regional scales. OCO-2 will also be able to quantify CO2 variability over the seasonal cycles year after year.
Since the beginning of the industrial age, the concentration of CO2 has increased from about 280 parts per million to over 390 parts per million to date. In May 2013, the Mauna Loa Observatory measured a record 400 parts per million in CO2, for the first time ever in human history. Furthermore, a global network of ground-based measurement sites has observed an increase in atmospheric CO2 concentration by almost 20% over the past 50 years - the most dramatic change that we have ever seen in human history. The amount of CO2 added to the atmosphere through human activities, according to the Global Carbon Project (GCP), has been steadily climbing; and the level was over at over 30 billion metric tons in 2005.
The world’s oceans, plants and soils on land, and numerous other less significant carbon pools within the global carbon cycle steadily absorb carbon and are called sinks. They serve to reduce the amount of CO2 that remains in the atmosphere. However, the geographic distributions of carbon uptakes by the oceans and terrestrial ecosystems are still uncertain. In addition, the effectiveness and efficiency of these sinks may change over time as more CO2 is emitted into the atmosphere and, therefore, warrant study.
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