Published: Fri, October 13, 2017
Research | By Raquel Erickson

Record rise in Carbon dioxide level caused by 2015-16 El Nino

Record rise in Carbon dioxide level caused by 2015-16 El Nino

NASA launched OCO-2 on July 2, 2014, after the failure of the first OCO satellite. The Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) mission was created to circumvent those limitations by providing a platform with which atmospheric CO2 can be measured spectrally from space over large geographic areas, thereby offering an unprecedented capability to study, in great detail, the processes that affect the concentration of the gas over a variety of spatial and temporal scales.

Data collected from OCO-2, including gas and photosynthesis rates, showed that forests in some tropical regions weren't gathering their usual amount of carbon.

The highest rates of atmospheric Carbon dioxide in 2,000 years stemmed from one of the most intense El Nino events on record, according to research published in the October 12 issue of Science.

Now, the scientists at NASA have found out that this phenomenon was also responsible for the largest annual increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration in, at least, the last 2,000 years.

El Nino is a cyclical warming pattern of ocean circulation in the central and eastern tropical the Pacific Ocean that can affect weather worldwide.

In Africa, hotter-than-normal temperatures led to faster decomposition of dead trees and plants, releasing more carbon into the atmosphere.

Eldering's team said that combining all these studies together helps to understand the impact of various factors which contribute in the disturbance of global carbon cycle.

Normally about 25 percent of the human-caused carbon emissions are sucked up by plants on land, but during this powerful El Nino that was only 5 percent, said Junjie Liu, a NASA scientist and study lead author.

This record rise in Carbon dioxide level occurred even though the amount of Carbon dioxide emission from human activities remained more or less similar before and after the El Nino. And some computer simulations say the frequency of El Nino will increase in the future with climate change, Denning said during a NASA press conference.

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