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First maps using data collected by OCO-2 revealed

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Scientists have revealed maps based on data collected by NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2), which was launched in July. During its 2-year mission, the OCO-2 is tasked with locating sources of CO2 on Earth, in addition to storage places.

At a media briefing at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco, USA, scientists from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Colorado State University (CSU) and the California Institute of Technology presented the maps of carbon dioxide and a related phenomenon known as solar-induced chlorophyll fluorescence and outlined their potential implications.

The map (pictured below) shows atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations from 1 October to 11 November. There are high concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere above northern Australia, southern Africa and eastern Brazil, which the scientists have suggested is a result of springtime biomass burning, i.e. agricultural fires and land clearing.

Global atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations from 1 October through 11 November, as recorded by NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2. Carbon dioxide concentrations are highest above northern Australia, southern Africa and eastern Brazil. Preliminary analysis of the African data shows the high levels there are largely driven by the burning of savannas and forests. Elevated carbon dioxide can also be seen above industrialised Northern Hemisphere regions in China, Europe and North America. (Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech).

“Preliminary analysis shows these signals are largely driven by the seasonal burning of savannas and forests,” said OCO-2 Deputy Project Scientist Annmarie Eldering, JPL. Further research is being carried out to determine how much of the carbon dioxide concentration can be attributed to seasonal biomass burning.

Some of the data collected so far has been unexpected. “The agreement between OCO-2 and models based on existing carbon dioxide data is remarkably good, but there are some interesting differences,” noted Christopher O'Dell, an assistant professor at CSU and member of OCO-2's science team. “Some of the differences may be due to systematic errors in our measurements, and we are currently in the process of nailing these down. But some of the differences are likely due to gaps in our current knowledge of carbon sources in certain regions – gaps that OCO-2 will help fill in.”

A new type of data analysis is being utilised to aid the information collected by OCO-2. Spectrometer instruments are measuring solar-induced chlorophyll fluorescence. This is the light remitted by plants following photosynthesis, during which plants remove CO2 and use sunlight to synthesise carbon into food. The maps produced using this information will provide further details about when and where plants remove carbon from the atmosphere.

This map shows solar-induced fluorescence, a plant process that occurs during photosynthesis, from August through October 2014 as measured by NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2. This period is springtime in the Southern Hemisphere and autumn in the Northern Hemisphere. Photosynthesis is highest over the tropical forests of the Southern Hemisphere but still occurs in much of the US Grain Belt. The northern forests have shut down for the winter. (Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech).

“Where OCO-2 really excels is the sheer amount of data being collected within a day, about one million measurements across a narrow swath,” explained JPL scientist Christian Frankenberg. “For fluorescence, this enables us, for the first time, to look at features on the five- to 10-kilometer scale on a daily basis.”

Further information can be found on NASA's website.

Adapted from press release by

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