In this artist rendering released by JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency),
greenhouse-gas monitoring satellite "Ibuki" is in orbit.

New NASA Satellite Will Gather Carbon Dioxide Data

February 23, 2009 11:56 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
The Orbiting Carbon Observatory, which is scheduled to launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Tuesday, will be the first to map worldwide concentrations of CO2.

Satellite to Measure Greenhouse Gases

Known as OCO, the new satellite NASA plans to launch on tuesday will measure and identify greenhouse gases and aid scientists in creating maps of its distribution throughout the world.

“It’s critical that we understand the processes controlling carbon dioxide in our atmosphere today so we can predict how fast it will build up in the future and how quickly we’ll have to adapt to climate change,” said David Crisp, principal investigator for the OCO, according to the Guardian.

Policymakers and governments will be able to use the data gathered to inform policy on monitoring CO2 emissions and climate change. It will also help scientists solve the mysterious question of why only about 40 percent of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere stays there, while the rest of it is absorbed by oceans.

Background: Japan uses satellite to learn more about global warming

In January, Japan also launched a new satellite to gather data on gases in the atmosphere.

The Greenhouse-Gases Observing Satellite, or Gosat, took off from Tanegashima Space Center to measure the density of carbon dioxide and methane gas emissions in the Earth’s southern hemisphere.

“There’s a scarcity of data about carbon dioxide and methane gas emissions in jungles in the southern hemisphere and areas above the ocean,” said Hiroshi Watanabe, Gosat project office manager at Japan’s National Institute for Environment Studies, to Bloomberg.

Gosat is also called “Ibuki,” the Japanese word for “breath,” because of its efforts to observe the Earth’s “breathing” in space. The nearly two-ton satellite cost $205 million to develop and has a wingspan of about 45 feet.

It is expected to be the first of four satellites that will be launched this year to study climate change, including the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory and Glory satellites, and the European Space Agency’s CryoSat-2 satellite.

Carbon and methane are two of six gases regulated by the Kyoto Protocol, and are thought to be largely responsible for the greenhouse effect. Carbon dioxide levels have been monitored on the ground for about 50 years, and the World Meteorological Organization’s World Data Center for Greenhouse Gases reported that as of last year there were about 283 observation points worldwide to monitor carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

Satellites such as Gosat, which will monitor 56,000 locations on Earth from an altitude of more than 400 miles, will give scientists a better perspective from which to analyze the problem, however. “From space, we can observe the Earth almost in its entirety,” said Takashi Hamazaki, GOSAT project manager at JAXA, to the Asahi Shimbun.

Opinion & Analysis: Green space race; carbon trading program

Adam Shake, a blogger at Twilight Earth, says he hopes the competing launches of Gosat and OCO could bring about the start of a “green space race.”

“There is a growing tendency for climate change and global warming skeptics and deniers to refute the findings of scientists the world over, so any new technologies that can be used to further prove the fact that Global Warming is real and that it is being caused by humans, is worth the endeavor,” Shake wrote.

Others see the satellites as aiding another area of environmental protection. Environmental publication Plenty says data gathered by the new satellite should aid in designing carbon-trading programs. “If carbon accounting ever gets truly serious, the major players will demand fair play through accurate data and assurances that the world’s carbon dioxide is doing what we think it’s doing. These satellites represent a big step towards true carbon accountability.”

Related Topics: Climate change in the news

Reference: Greenhouse gases

Greenhouse gases are chemical compounds found in the Earth’s atmosphere that allow sunlight through the Earth’s surface and then re-radiate them back into space in the form of heat. Some of the gases that act in this manner include natural gases such as water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, and human-produced industrial gases.

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