Observations from space are helping NASA see carbon dioxide levels in Earth's atmosphere like never before.
Levels of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide have risen sharply over the last 50 years due to human activity and the burning of fossil fuels. Today, about half of the carbon dioxide that’s emitted into the atmosphere is absorbed by Earth’s land and oceans. But exactly where the carbon ends up is not well understood. To get a clearer picture, NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2, or OCO-2, satellite is collecting measurements from space of carbon dioxide levels near the planet’s surface. By observing how concentrations vary over time, scientists can pinpoint areas on the globe that take up or release large amounts of the gas, and observe changes from season to season and year to year. The findings will help scientists quantify carbon dioxide sources and reservoirs, and determine what effect rising carbon dioxide levels might have in the future. Watch the video to see a visualization of the satellite’s first year of observations.