Wednesday, November 12, 2008

NASA's carbon-sniffing satellite arrives at launch site

Jet Propulsion Laboratory/NASA: NASA's first spacecraft dedicated to studying carbon dioxide, the leading human-produced greenhouse gas driving changes in Earth's climate, has arrived at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., to begin final launch preparations.

The Orbiting Carbon Observatory arrived Tues., Nov. 11, at its launch site on California's central coast after completing a cross-country trip by truck from its manufacturer, Orbital Sciences Corp. in Dulles, Va. The spacecraft left Orbital on Nov. 8. After final tests, the spacecraft will be integrated onto an Orbital Sciences Taurus rocket in preparation for its planned January 2009 launch.

The observatory will help solve some of the lingering mysteries in our understanding of Earth's carbon cycle and its primary atmospheric component, carbon dioxide, a chemical compound that is produced both naturally and through human activities…

…While scientists have a good understanding of carbon dioxide emissions resulting from burning fossil fuels, their understanding of carbon dioxide from other human-produced and natural sources is relatively poor. They know from ground measurements that only 40 to 50 percent of the carbon humans emit remains in Earth's atmosphere; the other 50 to 60 percent, they believe, is absorbed by Earth's ocean and land plants.

Scientists do not know, however, precisely where the absorbed carbon dioxide from human emissions is stored, what natural processes are absorbing it, or whether those processes will continue to work to limit increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide in the future, as they do now. The observatory's space-based measurements of atmospheric carbon dioxide will have the precision, resolution and coverage needed to provide the first complete picture of both human and natural sources of carbon dioxide emissions. It will show the places where they are absorbed, known as "sinks," at regional scales everywhere on Earth. Its data will reduce uncertainties in forecasts of how much carbon dioxide is in the atmosphere and improve the accuracy of global climate change predictions….

A NASA artist's rendering of the Orbiting Carbon Observatory

No comments: