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First NASA Spacecraft to Measure Carbon Dioxide Levels in Earth's Atmosphere

By Staff Reporter | Jun 27, 2014 03:24 PM EDT

With global warming and climate change at the forefront of the international agenda, one would think NASA had already developed some sort of advanced measurement tool to track CO2 emissions across the globe.a

The Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) is NASA's first spacecraft dedicated to measuring carbon dioxide levels in the Earth's atmosphere. The spacecraft will launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on July 1 and collect global CO2data for two years. Scientists hope this will give theminformation about what the world will be like in 50 years in terms of a changing environment.

OCO-2's mission is to provide a more complete, global picture of the human and natural sources of carbon dioxide along with the natural ocean and land processes - known as "sinks" - that store CO2 by pulling it out of the Earth's atmosphere. The spacecraft will launch aboard the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta II rocketto an altitude 438 miles high.

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"Knowing what parts of Earth are helping remove carbon from our atmosphere will help us understand whether they will keep doing so in the future," said Michael Gunson, OCO-2 project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, California, in this NASA news release. "Understanding the processes controlling carbon dioxide in our atmosphere will help us predict how fast it will build up in the future. Data from this mission will help scientists reduce uncertainties in forecasts of how much carbon dioxide will be in the atmosphere and improve the accuracy of global climate change predictions."

The instruments that the OCO-2 boasts are likely to provide plentiful information regarding the Earth's CO2 levels. It has three high-resolution spectrometers to measure the intensity of colors (caused by sun rays reflecting off of the Earth), which will determine carbon dioxide and oxygen absorption in the Earth's atmosphere. The more light the spectrometers detect indicates less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

The OCO-2 is a NASA Earth System Science Pathfinder Program mission managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C. It will collect hundreds of thousands of CO2 measurements each day as it flies over the sunlit parts of the Earth. This pioneering effort will hopefully spur the development of new technology that helps provide global leaders with information regarding the environment.

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