NASA Launches CO2 Satellite

Jul 13, 2014 By Vatsal, Young Editor
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On July 2, 2014, NASA launched a carbon dioxide monitoring satellite called Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2).

This satellite has a spectrometer that will be used to monitor the amount of carbon dioxide in earth’s atmosphere. The spectrometer does not measure carbon dioxide directly; rather it determines the carbon dioxide amount by measuring the brightness of the sunlight reflected back from earth.

Carbon dioxide from Human Activity

Humans burn materials such as wood, coal, gasoline, diesel and kerosene to run factories, cars, and aircrafts. For example, in a car, gasoline is burned by the engine and this produces carbon dioxide. There is nowhere to store the carbon dioxide in the car, so it is let out into the atmosphere from the exhaust pipe.

Scientists claim that human activity produces 40 billion tons of carbon dioxide in a year. Half of the carbon dioxide stays in earth’s atmosphere while a quarter dissolves into seas and oceans. The remaining quarter of carbon dioxide is used by plants, but scientists don’t know exactly how or where.

Global Warming

Carbon dioxide, methane, water vapor, and other gases with 3 or more atoms in earth’s atmosphere are called greenhouse gases. A greenhouse gas is a gas that traps sun’s heat reflected by the earth. Without greenhouse gases in earth’s atmosphere, earth’s temperature will be cold possibly causing life to not exist on earth.

Scientists are concerned that if the amount of greenhouse gases in earth’s atmosphere increases, more heat will be trapped. This will increase earth’s temperature causing global warming. Scientists are worried that global warming will affect habitats such as polar and tundra regions. Animals and plants that live in these regions may perish. Global warming could also raise sea levels due to warming of polar regions, and cities below sea level such as New Orleans could get flooded.

Is Global Warming Occurring?

Since Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, it is logical to assume that increasing the amount of carbon dioxide in earth’s atmosphere would result in global warming.

But some scientists and people question if global warming is actually occurring. They claim that the average temperature on earth has been 58 degrees Fahrenheit for the last 17 years. That is, some people claim that even though human activity produces carbon dioxide, it is not causing global warming.

The launch of OCO-2 will help tell how much carbon dioxide is actually remaining in the air. This could then be used to tell if global warming is occurring. If global warming is occurring due to carbon dioxide produced by humans, we need to cut down on our carbon dioxide production to avoid the bad effects of global warming.