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Tuesday, February 3, 2009

In Search of Missing Atmospheric CO2

NASA is planning to launch a 278 million dollar satellite program next month to measure atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) and find out where it goes, according to a Reuters article.

This technology measures light bounced off the planet. Carbon dioxide absorbs light in some frequencies, so the less light detected, the higher the concentration of carbon.

The world's oceans and land absorb much of the atmospheric CO2, but scientists have been unable to figure out where the remaining CO2 goes.

Knowing these answers will help scientists and models better predict the speed and extent of carbon dioxide's impact on the world's climate.


In a somewhat related story......Scientists are planning on using a souped-up corporate jet (and no, it is not the 50 million dollar Citigroup jet) to determine where and when some of the estimated 30 billion tons of carbon emitted annually by cars, factories, deforestation and other human activities enters the atmosphere.

Roughly half the carbon emitted by humans stays in the atmosphere, with the remainder being absorbed by ocean and earth ecosystems. But scientists don't understand how the system works or how quickly various gases mix.ers the atmosphere, according to the Scientific American article.

The result is that models of this so-called carbon cycle grown wildly divergent as they are projected into the future, with nearly 100 percent uncertainty by 2050, according to Britton Stephens, a scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research and one of the project's principal investigators.

The project will fill key gaps in our understanding of how carbon cycles through the atmosphere and among the earth, air and oceans.

The new map will also provide a baseline against which efforts worldwide to curb carbon emissions can be judged. Need for such a benchmark has gained urgency, scientists and policymakers say, as the world moves toward regional, national and international agreements to limit greenhouse gases.

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