NASA is trying to map out the entire Earth’s carbon cycle through their satellite from space. 

Their satellite has provided remarkable new insights on how CO2 is moving through the Earth’s atmosphere.

NASA launched the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 or OCO-2 in July 2014. Its mission was to collect carbon dioxide measurements from around the world.

OCO-2 has given scientists a “revolutionary” new way to understand the effects of droughts and heat on tropical rainforests.

Scientists collected data from OCO-2, including gas and photosynthesis rates. Thus, showing that forests in some tropical regions weren’t gathering their usual amount of carbon.

What is the reason behind the high amount of carbon dioxide?

Overheating of three major tropical forest regions across the globe brought the high amount of carbon dioxide.

The Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO) tracked the behavior of the gas in 2015/2016. This was a period when the planet experienced a major El Niño event. This is a phenomenon that boosts the amount of CO2 in the air.

El Niños occur when warm waters in the western Pacific periodically shift eastwards. This sets off a global perturbation in weather systems, redistributing rainfall and bumping up temperatures.

Scientists blame fires, drought and warmer temperatures for excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

NASA scientists expect that droughts in Earth’s tropical forests result from the El Niño climate cycle, and El Niño-like weather conditions will become more extreme in the coming years. This will cause even bigger spikes in CO2 levels in the near future.

“Now we can see that the tropical forest and plants didn’t absorb as much carbon as they usually do and that’s what caused this big increase in that time period,” Annmarie Eldering, the OCO-2 deputy project scientist at JPL said.

Eldering explained that OCO-2 takes about 100,000 direct and daily measurements of CO2 over the tropical forest regions of South America, the tropical forests of Africa and the tropical region of Asia surrounding Indonesia.

The OCO-2 also senses the rate of photosynthesis by detecting fluorescent chlorophyll in vegetation on the ground. These measurements help scientists produce models of plant decomposition rates across the globe.