Our atmosphere. Just a thin layer of gases surrounding our planet. Absorbing solar radiation. Retaining heat to warm the Earth’s surface. A delicate mixture of gases separating life on Earth from the rest of the cosmos. But when this mixture of gases gets out of balance, the temperature rises and alters our climate. Carbon is an essential component of Earth’s atmosphere. But it’s also the primary driver of our warming climate. And NASA scientists are learning more by studying how carbon dioxide moves through the atmosphere, ocean, and plant life. When people burn fossil fuels and clear forests, carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere. But only half of that carbon stays in the atmosphere, warming our planet and contributing to climate change. The other half is removed from the air by the planet’s ecosystems and ocean. “A huge question is: in the future as the
carbon dioxide builds up” “will the land and the ocean continue to take up that fifty percent?” “Do they get saturated? They’re full and they quit at some point?” “Or do they always just take up more and more and more?” In some regions, forests are releasing more carbon than they are storing. “Forests gain carbon as they grow,” “And they release it as they die and decompose.” “And processes like drought, pests, fire and deforestation contribute to the release of carbon.” Like vegetation on land, ocean water
absorbs carbon dioxide from fossil fuel emissions. Doing so, however, changes the chemistry of seawater with wide-ranging impacts on marine ecosystems. And as surface water in the ocean continues to warm, carbon uptake will slow down at some point. Models of atmospheric CO2 help us understand what our satellites see, so we get a more complete picture of this
global carbon cycle. “We can check our models against atmospheric observations, like those provided by OCO-2.” “And if they look reasonable, then we have confidence in using these models to predict” “how carbon is going to change in the future.” NASA is utilizing its unique science capabilities to increase our understanding of our home planet, improve lives, and safeguard our future. Your planet is changing. We’re on it.