The space agency is trying to balance the planet’s carbon budget using satellite monitoring
Carbon dioxide, or CO2 for short. It’s simple gas that makes up a small part of our planet’s atmosphere. And yet it’s at the root of one of the biggest problems of the 21st century (that would be climate change, for the record).
NASA scientists have been keeping an eye on the movement of CO2 across land, air and sea in an effort to zero in on the changes in store for our planet.
CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere are the highest they’ve been in 400,000 years. Despite the commitments to try and rein in carbon pollution, there’s still little sign human emissions will slow anytime in the near future, let alone drop to zero.
That has the world on track to cross the symbolic atmospheric CO2 threshold of 400 parts per million (ppm) permanently this year or early next year. And it also means that the climate will continue to change leading to warmer temperatures, higher and more acidic oceans, and shifts in extreme weather.
Yet CO2 and corresponding impacts would be a lot higher if it weren’t for plants, like giant sequoias to microscopic plankton, that absorb about half of all human CO2emissions in a given year. That’s why NASA is interested in monitoring the world’s greenery or what they’ve termed the “other half” of the carbon equation.
Factors such as El Niño, drought and warm weather in the Arctic all affect how much CO2 is taken up by the natural world. Scientists are beginning to understand those, but what they’re even more curious about is how human-influenced warming could further change plants’ ability to absorb CO2.