Scientific American watches NASA launch another satellite to watch the way our planet breathes:
But since [David Crisp] first conceived the project nearly 15 years ago, he and other scientists had been eagerly awaiting the opportunity to use this satellite to track the increasingly vast quantities of carbon dioxide humans were emitting. Such information could be used as a foundation for tracking emissions if a global climate treaty is ever approved.
The launch failure meant that even as the question of where carbon dioxide was coming from and what, exactly, was soaking it up became increasingly important, the instrument that might have answered these questions was somewhere in the bottom of the ocean.
Crisp’s NASA supervisors told him not to give up, that the Orbiting Carbon Observatory could get a second chance. It took a while, but eventually the second Orbiting Carbon Observatory—now called OCO-2—was approved and funded. If all goes as planned, it will take to the skies July 1.
Soon after, the observatory will begin its primary task: solving the mystery of the missing carbon.
About 40 billion tons of carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere every year as a result of human activities—around 5.5 tons per person on Earth.
Based on that figure, scientists have estimated that the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere should be increasing by about 1 percent a year.
“It’s not,” though, Crisp said. It’s increasing by half that, or 0.5 percent per year.
So where is the rest of the carbon dioxide going? That’s the question OCO-2 tries to answer.