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NASA Launches New “Orbiting Observatory” to Study Effects of Carbon Dioxide

2 Jul 2014, 3:50 pm

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Climate change is a hot-button issue across the globe. But scientists at NASA have sent a new satellite into space, with hopes of broadening the understanding of how carbon dioxide affects the atmosphere.

According to a NASA press release, a Delta II rocket blasted off from California’s Vandenburg Air Force Base in the early morning hours of July 2. About an hour after liftoff the Delta II rocket released the “Orbiting Climate Observatory-2” into lower-Earth orbit — about 429 miles above the ground. OCO-2, as it’s known within NASA circles, will start a “minimum two-year mission” to study the effects of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

According to space.com, OCO-2 will be measuring carbon dioxide levels in Earth’s atmosphere 24 times every second. And this type of constant monitoring will provide and immense amount of information about places where the gas is being produced and where the largest carbon sinks — or traps, to be more colloquial — are located.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden explains the long-term goal of OCO-2, “With OCO-2 and our existing fleet of satellites, NASA is uniquely qualified to take on the challenge of documenting and understanding these changes, predicting the ramifications, and sharing information about these changes for the benefit of society.”

In 2013, it’s estimated that 36 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide went into the atmosphere — for reference, that’s mass of about 108,000 Empire State Buildings. Even so, the Earth is able to absorb massive quantities of the carbon that’s emitted. NASA scientist and OBO-2 team leader, David Crisp, explains “Scientists currently don’t know exactly where and how Earth’s oceans and plants have absorbed more than half the carbon dioxide that human activities have emitted into our atmosphere since the beginning of the industrial era.”

Even though OBO-2 is safely in orbit, a few weeks of testing will be needed before the $468 million satellite is fully operational.

OBO-2 is the second attempt to get a satellite of this type into orbit. In 2009, a hardware failure caused a Taurus XL rocket and it’s payload to crash in the ocean off Antarctica.

Meteorologist Alan Raymond

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