Finally, Some Good News For Climate Science


OCO-3 in the clean room at Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA

Photo by Laura Faye Tenenbaum

Despite countless political setbacks, climate science technology and research continues to march forward. NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory 3 (OCO-3), an instrument that measures atmospheric carbon dioxide arrived at the International Space Station early Monday morning.

The science instrument had already been built when President Trump, in his FY2018 budget, cut funding for satellites that study Earth and climate science. Thankfully though, congress restored the funding and this past Saturday OCO-3 along with approximately 5,500 pounds of NASA cargo and other science investigations launched aboard SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft.

The NASA science and engineering teams cleverly assembled the Orbiting Carbon Observatory 3 (OCO-3) using spare parts from the instrument’s predecessor, OCO-2, which launched in 2014 and orbits Earth independently. Since OCO-2 is still active, the two missions will be able to cross-calibrate their data.

After the Dragon spacecraft arrives at the Space Station, astronauts use robotic arms to unpack the cargo and attach the carbon-measuring observatory facing toward Earth where it will track variations in atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Unlike its predecessor, this new carbon monitor will be able to target carbon emissions over urban areas by pointing its mirrors and taking a snapshot. This is crucial because up to 70% of the carbon dioxide produced from burning fossil fuels comes from cities.

Carbon dioxide traps heat, so understanding more about where the carbon dioxide is coming from and how much there is in Earth’s atmosphere will help scientists predict increases in global temperatures.

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