New NASA satellite measures carbon sources and sinks - Tucson News Now

New NASA satellite measures carbon sources and sinks

Tracking carbon levels in the atmosphere is key to understanding human and natural contribution to climate change. Carbon is a greenhouse gas, which helps keep Earth's temperatures at a comfortable level needed for human habitation.

The burning of fossil fuels, which are largely made up of carbon, over the last 150 years has spiked carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in the air. The result is an unnatural rate of warming in the Earth's atmosphere. The current CO2 level is now at the highest level in the past 800,000 years, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

On July 1, NASA is launching a spacecraft that will track CO2 levels in more detail then ever before. According to NASA, the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) is a "polar orbiting satellite will provide a global picture of human and natural sources of carbon dioxide."

Data gathered by OCO-2 will also better identify major carbon 'sinks'. These are places in nature that store carbon, such as the ocean plus vegetation on land. 

OCO-2 is scheduled to launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at 2:26 AM Tuesday July 1, 2014. This is the second OCO satellite. The first was destroyed more than five years ago in an accident during launch. 

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