NASA Podcasts

Orbiting Carbon Observatory
02.09.09
 
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Tom Traeger, High School Earth Science Teacher Hi! My name's Tom Traeger and I'm a high school Earth sciences teacher. We're currently learning about climate change in my class. Climate change is part of a complex process. We learn that carbon is naturally released into the atmosphere then absorbed again and again. And we also learn how human activity can upset this balance. I'm finding that the more I teach my students about climate change, the more questions they have.

Tyler Stenzel, Student Why is carbon dioxide so important?

Ralph Basilio, OCO Deputy Project Manager Carbon dioxide is a major greenhouse gas and is argued to be a leading contributer to global climate change.

Dave Crisp, OCO Principal Investigator and it's primarily coming from human activities. Some of those human activities that are emitting carbon dioxide in our atmosphere include the burning of fossil fuels. Because of this, we've been building up the concentrations of this gas in our atmosphere very, very rapidly over the last 50 or so years.

Rebecca Abrams, Student How much carbon dioxide are we actually putting into the atmosphere?

Charles Miller, OCO Deputy Principal Investigator Every year human activity is responsible for approximately 8 billion metric tons of carbon being released into the atmosphere.

Thomas Mills, Student Just what is a metric ton of carbon?

Charles Miller, OCO Deputy Principal Investigator One ton of carbon would be the equivalent of say a small convertible sports car. OK? Now, 8 billion of those are put into the atmosphere every year. That's more than one sports car or one ton of carbon being put into the atmosphere for every man, woman and child living on the Earth today.

Forrest Bouke, Student So where is all that carbon going?

Charles Miller, OCO Deputy Principal Investigator Approximately half of the carbon dioxide that's emitted by human activities remains in the atmosphere. The other half of that carbon dioxide is disappearing. It's being absorbed by the oceans and by the terrestrial biosphere, but we don't know where it's being absorbed.

Tyler Stenzel, Student How are you going to figure out where all that carbon dioxide is going?

Ralph Basilio, OCO Deputy Project Manager The Orbiting Carbon Observatory is really NASA's first truly dedicated mission for measuring CO2 in the atmosphere.

Dave Crisp, OCO Principal Investigator This satellite then will allow us to then find out where the carbon dioxide is coming from, where it’s being produced and where it's being emitted into the atmosphere, and where it's being reabsorbed into land plants and into the oceans.

Charles Miller, OCO Deputy Principal Investigator The satellite brings back hundreds of thousands of measurements per day and so by making so many more measurements over much more of the surface of the Earth, we can increase our understanding just by overwhelming the problem with more data.

Rob Deans, Student Well, why is it so important that we know exactly where all the carbon dioxide is going?

Ralph Basilio, OCO Deputy Project Manager One of the fundamental goals of the Orbiting Carbon Observatory is to obtain the necessary information and data so that policymakers not only here in the United States, but throughout the world, can make better informed decisions.

Dave Crisp, OCO Principal Investigator OCO measurements could give us an indication of how much longer we can burn fossil fuels at the rate that we're burning them now. How much more CO2 we can add to our atmosphere before it does produce climate changes that are unacceptable. But we need the measurements that spacecraft like OCO will make in order to understand the processes controlling the rate of buildup of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, so that we can understand how it will change in the future.

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