London, Feb 24 (ANI): NASA's new climate-monitoring satellite, the Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO), which would pinpoint sources and sinks of carbon dioxide (CO2), will blast off today from California's Vandenberg Air Force Base.
According to a report in New Scientist, with the help of the satellite, scientists will be one step closer to understanding how some CO2 ends up building a dangerous greenhouse above our heads, while the rest of it gets sucked into the bowels of the Earth.
The OCO is NASA's latest climate-spying satellite. Despite the amount of attention that climate science receives, it is the first satellite to monitor precisely where and when carbon dioxide is being emitted and where and when it is being absorbed.
Hopefully, it should be able to pinpoint Earth's mysterious "missing" carbon.
Humans currently emit 8.5 billion tonnes of carbon each year, mostly as carbon dioxide. Not all of that ends up in the atmosphere.
In fact, of all the carbon emitted since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, just 40 percent has accumulated above our heads and built up the greenhouse effect.
The remaining 60 percent has been absorbed by carbon 'sinks' - natural reservoirs on land and at sea where carbon is stored away as organic material, like trees and plankton.
When scientists measured how much carbon has ended up in the world's oceans, they found just half of that 60 percent. The other 30 percent is still missing, presumably stored away in a land-sink.
Most data on the sources and sinks of carbon dioxide is collected from instruments mounted on aeroplanes and land-based towers at some 100 locations around the globe.
The problem is these measurements are neither systematic nor comprehensive - they do not cover the entire planet.
To counter the problem, the OCO will use spectrometers to measure the intensity of sunlight that is reflected off the Earth.
Different gas molecules in the atmosphere, such as CO2, absorb radiation at specific wavelengths.
So, scientists will use the OCO to look for the "molecular fingerprints" of this absorption in sunlight that has bounced off the Earth's surface.
It will focus on layers of the atmosphere at altitudes lower than 5 kilometers - which is to say, right above the carbon sources and sinks. (ANI)