Published: Fri, October 13, 2017
Science | By Hubert Green

Record rise in Carbon dioxide level caused by 2015-16 El Nino

Scientists have analyzed the data of the first 28 months from NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) satellite.

An artist's conception shows the OCO-2 satellite.

Data collected from OCO-2, including gas and photosynthesis rates, showed that forests in some tropical regions weren't gathering their usual amount of carbon.

"Now we can see that the tropical forest and plants didn't absorb as much carbon as they usually do and that's what caused this big increase in that time period", Annmarie Eldering, the deputy project scientist for the OCO-2 project, told the Los Angeles Times.

The spikes recorded by OCO-2 indicated that the carbon dioxide emissions got a 50 percent increase in the year 2015-16 as compared to the average carbon emissions of preceding years. And in Indonesia, dry conditions led to increased fires, which also released more carbon.

These findings are important as El Niño events-a climate cycle in the Pacific Ocean-are becoming more frequent due to greenhouse warming.

"These three tropical regions released 2.5 gigatonnes (a billion tonnes) more carbon into the atmosphere than they did in 2011", said the lead author of the study Junjie Liu of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. This made the scientists conclude that El Nino might have driven the carbon emissions owing to less rainfall in South America and hot temperatures in Africa.

"The team's findings imply that if future climate brings more or longer droughts, as the last El Nino did, more carbon dioxide may remain in the atmosphere, leading to a tendency to further warm Earth", Eldering added.

Out of 5 studies, two studies were about 2015-2016 El Niño's impact on the carbon cycle, and one study was done to track carbon emission from Volcanoes and cities, according to Motherboard (magazine).

The OCO-2 satellite, launched in 2014, is created to provide a detailed picture of how carbon is exchanged between air, land and sea.

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