Based on data from NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) satellite, scientists have produced the first global maps of human emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) ever made solely from satellite observations of the greenhouse gas.
No satellite before OCO-2 was capable of measuring carbon dioxide in fine enough detail to allow researchers to create maps of human emissions from the satellite data alone, NASA said in a statement on Tuesday. Instead, earlier maps also incorporated estimates from economic data and modeling results.
The team of scientists from the Finnish Meteorological Institute, Helsinki, produced three main maps from OCO-2 data, each centered on one of Earth’s highest-emitting regions –the eastern United States, central Europe and East Asia.
The results, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, show widespread carbon dioxide across major urban areas and smaller pockets of high emissions.
“OCO-2 can even detect smaller, isolated emitting areas like individual cities,” said research scientist Janne Hakkarainen, who led the study.
“It’s a very powerful tool that gives new insight,” Hakkarainen noted.
Human emissions of carbon dioxide have grown at a significant rate since the Industrial Revolution, and the greenhouse gas lingers in the atmosphere for a century or more.
This means that recent human output is only a tiny part of the total carbon dioxide that OCO-2 records as it looks down toward Earth’s surface.
“Currently, the background level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is about 400 parts per million, and human emissions within the past year may add only something like three parts per million to that total,” Hakkarainen said.
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