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Carbon-monitoring OCO-2 satellite confirms that El Nino weather boosts CO2

13 Octobre 2017

A NASA satellite has found another thing to blame on El Nino: A recent record high increase of carbon dioxide in the air.

The super-sized El Nino a couple of years ago led to an increase of 3 billion tons of carbon in the air, most from tropical land areas.

The effect was so large that it was the main factor in the biggest one-year jump in heat-trapping gas levels in modern record. The Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) mission was created to circumvent those limitations by providing a platform with which atmospheric CO2 can be measured spectrally from space over large geographic areas, thereby offering an unprecedented capability to study, in great detail, the processes that affect the concentration of the gas over a variety of spatial and temporal scales.

According to the researchers, this change is mainly explained by a decrease of precipitation in South America and an increase in temperatures in Africa, a phenomenon that is expected to worsen by the end of the century with global warming.

Scientists have long known that carbon dioxide levels spike during an El Nino, the natural occasional warming of parts of the central Pacific that causes droughts in some places, floods in others and generally adds to warmer temperatures worldwide.

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In Africa, hotter-than-normal temperatures led to faster decomposition of dead trees and plants, releasing more carbon into the atmosphere.

This photo from 2014 shows an artist's rendering obtained from NASA/JPL-Caltech of NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO)-2, which examines how carbon dioxide moves across the Earth system and how it changes over time. But they weren't able to pinpoint the precise mechanisms that led to the carbon dioxide increase until now.

Jonathan Overpeck, a University of MI scientist who was not part of the study, said the research revealed that the regional links between carbon dioxide and El Nino are more complex than previously thought, and raised concern about how the earth will respond to more future warming.

Then, as spring gets under way and summer approaches, plants begin to soak up more carbon again.

Carbon-monitoring OCO-2 satellite confirms that El Nino weather boosts CO2