NASA to launch new carbon-tracking spacecraft

87287 full
87287 full

On July 1 NASA plans to launch a spacecraft that will monitor global levels of CO2. It’s called the Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2.

When humans burn fossil fuels, like gasoline, carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere.

Some of it stays there, trapping heat from the sun and warming the planet, says Paul Wennberg, Caltech professor and OCO-2 researcher.

Related: NASA to focus on Earth in 2014 (Photos)

But, he adds, "about half of the carbon that we have emitted into the atmosphere has gone elsewhere."

Where has it gone? Into trees and the ocean, says Wennberg.

However, scientists are still unclear on some of the details of that absorption process, like which forests store the most carbon dioxide.

"Is the carbon going into the boreal forests... in Northern Canada or Northern Eurasia? Or is it going into the tropical forests or is it going into the sub tropical latitudes?" Wennberg asked.

That's where OCO-2 comes in.

The spacecraft will orbit the planet and take hundreds of thousands of carbon readings a day, creating a map of where on Earth CO2 is produced and stored.

Scientists can use this data to learn more about the carbon cycle and improve predictions for how climate change may effect the planet.

This is the second time NASA has tried to send this type of instrument into space. OCO-1 was set to fly in 2009 but was lost due to a launch failure.

The newer OCO-2 model is nearly identical in its design; it cost NASA around $468 million.

It's set to launch onboard a United Launch Alliance Delta 2 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base.

blog comments powered by Disqus