NASA just successfully launched a new satellite that will track atmospheric carbon dioxide – the greenhouse gas that most climate scientists agree is the main driver of global warming. The Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) lifted off aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket at approximately 2:56 a.m. at Vandenberg Air Force Base along the central California coast. The two-year, $468 mission marks the first time that the space agency will study and collect data on atmospheric CO2.

“Climate change is the challenge of our generation,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “With OCO-2 and our existing fleet of satellites, NASA is uniquely qualified to take on the challenge of documenting and understanding these changes, predicting the ramifications, and sharing information about these changes for the benefit of society.”

This is NASA’s second attempt at tracking atmospheric carbon dioxide. In 2009 a hardware malfunction on Taurus XL rocket caused the satellite to crash into the ocean off Antarctica. The OCO-2 will orbit at a distance of 438 miles from the Earth’s surface, which will allow it to cover about 80 percent of the globe.

OCO-2, NASA, Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2, carbon dioxide, climate change, global warming greenhouse gas

Scientists want to find out where and how the Earth’s oceans and plants have absorbed half of man-made carbon emissions since the industrial revolution, while the other half of the greenhouse gas became trapped in the atmosphere. Climate scientists call these “carbon sinks.” Around 40 billion tons of carbon dioxide are released every year from human activities, which averages to about 5.5 tons per person.

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“This challenging mission is both timely and important,” said Michael Freilich, director of the Earth Science Division of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “OCO-2 will produce exquisitely precise measurements of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations near Earth’s surface, laying the foundation for informed policy decisions on how to adapt to and reduce future climate change.”


Via Huffington Post

Lead image via NASA