June 30, 2014

Tracking Carbon From Space

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Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2)

NASA/Bill Ingalls

Add a new acronym to the chronicles of climate change and carbon emissions:  OCO-2, the Orbiting Carbon Observatory. Reuters reports that NASA will launch the OCO-2 satellite early in the morning of Tuesday, July 2.  It is designed to track where carbon is being released and where and how it is being reabsorbed by ocean and forests.

OCO-2 will spend two years tracking carbon emissions. According to the story, more than 50 years of carbon measurements have shown that about half of the amount of carbon put into the air is reabsorbed.  But OCO project manager Ralph Basilio says that absorption rate is variable and needs further study:

Understanding what controls that variability is really crucial. If we can do that today, it might inform us about what might happen in the future.

To gather the needed data, OCO-2 will be positioned so that it passes over the same area every 16 days, giving “scientists insight into how levels of carbon dioxide change over weeks, months and years.”

Get more facts about the satellite.

Follow NASA’s blog for live launch coverage.

History: The original OCO was meant to launch in 2009 but was lost after it failed to separate from its rocket.

Location: OCO-2 will launch from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base. NASA will position OCO-2 438 miles from Earth.

Project cost: $465 million