Due to launch 24 February, NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory will measure carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere with a precision high enough to detect the origin and fate of carbon emissions. In a Q&A on Nature Reports Climate Change today, principal investigator David Crisp explains why we need to put this greenhouse gas under satellite scrutiny:
From ground-based monitoring stations, we know that slightly less than half the carbon dioxide put into the atmosphere in the last 50 years has actually stayed there. But there aren’t enough ground stations to tell us where the carbon sinks are. About a quarter is being absorbed by the oceans and by trees, but we don’t know where the rest is going. Now, one might worry about whether these sinks will continue to be sinks. It’d be nice if we could study them and determine whether they’re going to continue to do us this wonderful favour.
Sink studies on the ground are already turning up surprises, like the finding in a Nature paper this week that undisturbed tropical forests seem to be absorbing much more carbon than expected. Crisp says researchers can get a more complete picture from space, where “we can observe the entire Earth using the same instrument.”
On top of the scientific value, he says, “If we can identify sources and sinks of CO2, I’m sure we’re going to discover some low-hanging fruit for policymakers.”
Crisp also details how his program overlaps with Japan’s greenhouse gas-monitoring satellite GOSAT – and why he’s optimistic that more generous funding for Earth monitoring is on the way. Read the full interview here.
Photo: Crisp at Mauna Loa Observatory, Hawaii; Credit: David Crisp