NASA Can Now Track CO2 Emissions More Precisely From Space

For the first time since the Pliocene Era, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) stated that atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations hit 400 parts per million (ppm) in 2013. (ca. 3 million years ago).

By 2030, the average global temperature will rise by 1.5 to 2 °C, predicts the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report (AR6), due to “excess carbon dioxide” in our atmosphere.

Worldwide ecological systems will be greatly impacted by this, including crop failures, droughts, wildfires, and species extinctions. These changes necessitate not only a reduction in emissions but also policies for mitigation, adaptation, and climate monitoring.

Related: How does climate change impact our health?

NASA’s Lookout

NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO) 2 and 3 missions are twin satellites that observe CO2 levels in Earth’s atmosphere from space in order to learn more about the characteristics of climate change.

A group of researchers used data from OCO 2 and 3 to detect and track variations in CO2 and quantify the emissions produced below using the fifth-largest coal-fired power plant in the world as a test case.

Ray Nassar, a senior researcher with Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) and an adjunct professor at the University of Toronto, was the study’s principal investigator (UofT).

Specifics Uncovered By JPL

Researchers from the ECCC, UofT, Colorado State University, and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of NASA accompanied him (JPL).

On October 28, 2022, Frontiers in Remote Sensing published the report that details their findings.

Their findings show that CO2 emission changes can be monitored locally using measurements from space. The OCO-2 satellite, which was launched in 2014, maps natural and human-caused CO2 emissions on regional and continental scales.

Related: What is the current status of Ozone layer?

Belchatów Terminus In Action

Indirectly, the quantity of sunlight reflected off the Earth’s surface is measured, and directly, the amount of CO2 that is absorbed in the air column between the Earth’s surface and the satellite is measured.

Since its opening in 1988 and to the end of 2036, the Belchatów Power Station has been in operation (according to the Polish government). The largest coal-fired power plant in the world at the moment is this one (with a reported capacity of 5,102 megawatts).

Combustible “Dead Remains”

When compared to hard coal, brown coal (lignite) typically produces more emissions per megawatt (anthracite). Approximately half of the global carbon emissions from fossil fuels are caused by large facilities like power plants and oil refineries.

Both satellites were not initially intended to monitor emissions from particular plants, like Belchatów.Abhishek Chatterjee, the project scientist for the OCO-3 mission, stated in a NASA news release that their findings were a “pleasant surprise” and that he and his colleagues are eager for more study opportunities in the future:

Mission in Harmony

“In order to be able to extract more information from the data than we had initially intended, as a community we are improving the tools and methods. We are discovering that, contrary to what we first believed, there is a lot more to anthropogenic emissions than meets the eye.

The idea that OCO-3 will continue to operate for another five to six years is quite thrilling. We can see how crucial it is to take measurements at the proper time and scale.”

Refrained Estimate

NASA claims that estimates or data gathered from Earth’s surface are used to produce the majority of CO2 emissions reports. This consists of quantifying the amount of fossil fuels consumed and estimating the emissions; it typically excludes atmospheric observations.

Added NASA : “The specifics of when and where emissions occur are frequently unavailable. To track the success of initiatives to cut emissions, a more thorough picture of carbon dioxide emissions may be helpful.

Our strategy utilizing OCO-2 and OCO-3 can be adapted to account for carbon dioxide emissions from cities or entire nations.”


The mapping mode of OCO-3’s observations, which may act as a “pathfinder” for future satellite missions, will be useful to climate scientists in the future.

Recently, NASA declared that OCO-3 mission operations aboard the ISS would be continued for a number of additional years.
The Earth Surface Mineral Dust Source Investigation, another mission to monitor greenhouse gasses, will coexist with the device (EMIT).

The effectiveness of mitigation and adaptation measures will be greatly aided by these and other initiatives to monitor climate change and CO2 emissions in real time.


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