Early Results from NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 Mission to be presented at #AGU14 via Live Stream


Time: Thursday, Dec. 18, 9 a.m. PST

In 2014, NASA launched four new missions to study our home planet, including the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 in July – NASA’s first mission dedicated to studying atmospheric carbon dioxide. This press conference will present early results from the OCO-2 mission. Fossil fuel combustion, deforestation and other human activities are adding almost 40 billion tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere each year, yet less than half of it stays airborne. The rest is apparently being absorbed by natural processes at the surface, whose identity and location are poorly understood. Ground-based carbon dioxide measurements accurately record the global atmospheric carbon dioxide budget and its trends but do not have the resolution or coverage needed to identify the “sources” emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere or the natural “sinks” absorbing this gas. One way to improve the resolution and coverage of these measurements is to collect precise observations of carbon dioxide from an orbiting satellite. OCO-2 is NASA’s first satellite designed to measure atmosphere carbon dioxide with the accuracy, resolution and coverage needed to identify its sources and sinks. OCO-2 is currently recording more than 100,000 carbon dioxide measurements over Earth’s sunlit hemisphere each day. In addition, a new data product from OCO-2 that senses light emitted from the photosynthesis of plants has been developed. Over the next two years, these measurements are expected to revolutionize our understanding of the processes controlling the atmospheric buildup of carbon dioxide.


Annmarie Eldering, OCO-2 Deputy Project Scientist, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California

Chris O’Dell, Assistant Professor of Atmospheric Science, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado

Paul Wennberg, R. Stanton Avery Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry and Environmental Science and Engineering, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California

Christian Frankenberg, Research Scientist, NASA JPL

Related AGU Sessions:

A41G, A41H, A41I, A51P, A52E, A53R

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory invites you to watch live and chat about everything from Mars rovers to monitoring asteroids to cool cosmic discoveries. From the lab to the lecture hall, get information directly from scientists and engineers working on NASA’s latest missions.

Live Stream starts at 9AM PST Noon EST



82 thoughts on “Early Results from NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 Mission to be presented at #AGU14 via Live Stream

  1. It will be interesting to see how it compares to JAXA’s CO2 “IBUKI.” Satellite values, which has of course been up since 2009.

  2. “Over the next two years, these measurements are expected to revolutionize our understanding of the processes controlling the atmospheric buildup of carbon dioxide.”
    What are the odds that this data will ultimately be used to produce invoices based upon CO2 output by country as part of the “Name and Shame” agenda being implemented over the next 2 years? Revolutionize, may indeed be the operative word, but not the way it is being portrayed. Just sayin, the tool is now in place.

    • Putting together a couple of other posts – following AC Osborn with the JAXA’s CO2 “IBUKI.” values are anyway upheld, that would be the MidEast countries, equatorial Africa & S. America. Canada, Australia and the US will be getting a refund.
      Bruce Cobb December 18, 2014 at 8:53 am – In 100 years they will be scratching their heads over it, trying to figure out why.
      Does the idea of ‘Dutch Tulips’ cause head scratching?

    • Australia and Argentina are big net absorbers of CO2. Will the world pay a lot of money to Australia and Argentina, or will they quietly sideline the data?

  3. We already know what “they” are going to say this satellite tells us, “… worse than previously thought …”

    • In fact, reading the article, the preliminary result is that we know less than “we” previously thought. Also residence time for atmospheric CO2 additions are clearly much shorter than “feared.” If half the first year carbon is taken up by “sinks” in the first year, then by as little 10 years about 0.2 % remains. Of course there’s no temporal baseline of any decent extent to tell, but it seems probable that “sinks” are increasing but the increase lags the newly available CO2 by some amount.

      • Something wrong in the reasoning: half of what humans emit today is absorbed by nature, but that is not caused by the emissions of this year, that is caused by the extra CO2 built up in the previous 160 years…
        We are now about 110 ppmv over the temperature controlled equilibrium, it is the 110 ppmv (~110 μatm) extra pressure which pushes extra CO2 in the oceans (and plant alveoli).
        If humans should stop all emissions today, the ~2 ppmv sink/year of CO2 would remain about the same, reducing the 110 ppmv extra CO2 pressure with ~2 ppmv, the next year a little less reduction, etc. until equilibrium is reached.
        That gives an e-fold decay rate of slightly over 50 years (110 ppmv / 2.15 ppmv/year) or a half-life time of ~40 years.

      • If humans should stop all emissions today, the ~2 ppmv sink/year of CO2 would remain about the same
        if your reasoning was correct, the sink would be related to total emissions. however what we are seeing is that the sink remains firmly fixed at 1/2 of the annual human emissions in the past year. the sink isn’t a function of the total, it is a function of the first derivative.
        this suggests that the sink is not passive, it is not simply related to total pressure. Rather the sink is growing in size, as life expands to take advantage of the increased CO2. Even a small increase in life will eventually overwhelm human emissions, because our emissions are only a small fraction of the natural carbon cycle. The faster we emit CO2, the faster life will expand to absorb it.

      • Duster
        December 18, 2014 at 9:52 am
        In fact, reading the article, the preliminary result is that we know less than “we” previously thought.
        A part of your comment only. Thank you.
        The Atmosphere-Land-Ocean [and incoming-outgoing space radiation] system is tolerably complex.
        Well, there appears to be no satisfactory model of its working . . . . . .
        As we’ve seen, the WUWT readership has listed a variety of possible or potential variants.
        In my humble bum-boatie view, the Science is absolutely n o t settled.
        Despite some publicity- [or grant-] seekers claiming it is, on no tangible evidence.
        Duster is right.
        Have a good weekend.

  4. I do hope they will get someone who is a real scientist with real integrity. The kind of person who will do the right thing even when nobody is looking.

    • The kind of person who will do the right thing even when nobody is looking.
      When everyone is looking

  5. Someday we’ll look back on this obsession with CO2 and laugh. In 100 years they will be scratching their heads over it, trying to figure out why.

    • More likely, we’ll cry.
      Figuring what it costs to launch/maintain satellite missions, along with all of the compute power dedicated to just C02 research…it makes me think of the way parents would shake their heads and tsk-tsk about a kid gone wrong, saying “If only he could have put that energy to doing something good…”
      If we had spent that money on something like Thorium reactors…how much better off would we now be?
      My hunch…lots.

  6. “Fossil fuel combustion, deforestation and other human activities are adding almost 40 billion tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere each year, …”
    So it isn’t just CO2 from fossil-fuel use? It isn’t the only demon?
    And what are the “other human activities”?
    And how much of the 40 B tons are from fossil-fuel use? How much from deforestation? How much from “other human activities”?
    Inquiring minds need to know. (:-))

  7. Does this satellite also have useful work to do? Perhaps studying CO2 was the means of getting the funding.

    • “In addition, a new data product from OCO-2 that senses light emitted from the photosynthesis of plants has been developed”
      So CO2 AND photosynthesis tracking. This thing sounds like it’s really a Biosphere monitoring Sat, and they just sold it on the ‘Climate Change’ meme to get government backing.

      • What does ” light emitted from the photosynthesis of plants ” mean ? Bioluminescence of living leaves does exist , but is very weak in intensity and would surely not appear above the background of scattered daylight or light pollution at night , or moonlight .

  8. The rest is apparently being absorbed by natural processes at the surface, whose identity and location are “poorly understood”. Who let this get past the gatekeepers?????

  9. But how will this make Al Gore richer? How will Michael Mann become more famous? This is such a bad idea.

  10. Relating to Willis’ thread about Arctic albedo, the guy on here (at ~17:32 GMT) just described the ocean as ‘a mirror’

    • I think you misunderstood what he was saying about “glint mode”. He said the oceans were “black”, compared to land, absorbing most light, except for “glints” (mirror-like etc) at certain angles, which become the prime ocean targets for OCO2. No such problem over land because the ground scatters the sunlight differently.

  11. Don’t all the models assume that CO2 is uniformly distributed?
    Won’t the fact that the concentration of CO2 varies from place to place mean that the models will have to be adjusted to account for the fact that CO2 is going to have more impact on some parts of the globe compared to others?

    • Yes, CO2 is well-mixed so almost uniformly distributed. But OCO2 is chasing very faint gradients in this mixture on the order of 1%. (So the false-color maps deliberately exaggerate these gradients to make them more visible). In one example they showed what they called one of the strongest gradients (between LA and Edwards AFB), which varied only 394 ppm to 402 ppm, IIRC.

      • So, NASA fires off a satellite to measure 2% relative regional differences of a trace atmospheric gas that comprises less than 1/2 of 1% of the atmosphere… Why? Aren’t there more important things to do? Like, I dunno, feed the few billion or so starving people on the planet…
        Anyway… I watched some of the video feed. I learned a little bit… like long wave re-radiation of chlorophyll is currently indistinguishable from CO2 long wave re-radiation. And that the satellite measurements of CO2 are only valid through a perfectly clear totally cloudless atmospheric column. This will probably make regional measurements of NE USA in the winter rather difficult.
        My guess is: the findings of the mission have already been written.

      • > “Why? Aren’t there more important things to do?”
        Hey, it’s science. I, for one, appreciated that the panelists addressed the science, not a lot of CO2 activism.

      • what the map does show is that China, Brazil and large parts of Africa and SE Asia are net emitters while countries like Canada and India are net sinks.
        So if anyone deserves to be compensated it should be Canada and India for doing our part to reduce global warming. Please forward the 100 billion climate fund ASAP.

  12. Once we know what the loss to the oceans is, we can cross-check pH changes in the oceans.
    We will have to watch to see if the observations a) are not actually calculations requiring b) calibrations using modeled absorption into the oceans.

  13. 40 billion tons of CO2 divided by the human population of approximately 7 billion people, works out at 5.7 tons for each of us annually. This does not sound right to me!
    In addition they are looking for 1/2 of this total that is being absorbed by the surface of the Earth; is this the same science that says that the heat that cannot be accounted for is disappearing into the oceans?

    • andrewm
      This begs the question, “If mankind stopped emitting CO2 would the atmospheric concentration reduce by 2 ppm per year?” If we cut in half our emissions it would remain constant? Without us emitting, we would freeze and starve to death.

  14. For me this press conference was very informative. It seemed to answer one of the questions that we raised in an earlier OCO2 post on WUWT here: where did they get the data for the tracking “simulation” demo?
    So they discussed the TCCON (Total Carbon Column Observation Network which are ground and ocean based spectrometers similar to the ones aboard OCO2, which compute the total column of O2 and CO2 from direct sunlight observation. I’m guessing this is what was used for the “simulation” and makes sense because it’s generating the same data as OCO2. But only from a handful of sites around the world. In fact it’s “better” than OCO2’s data because it doesn’t depend on reflected sunlight, so the SNR should be better.
    I see, from the press conference, that they are indeed using that same “simulation” software for the actual OCO2.
    In what sense is it “simulated”? Well, you can see waves and wisps of CO2 rolling and roiling over the surface. OCO2 didn’t observe those dynamics directly. They were obtained by merging (“morphing”) the OCO2 column data with upper air wind data, to generate the videos. So it’s not really “simulating” the data but integrating two resources to “render” a nice (and probably useful) visualization. (Same technique is commonly used to visualize total precipitable water (TPW http://tropic.ssec.wisc.edu/real-time/mimic-tpw/global/main.html)

    • OCO2 is very unfortunate terminology since it appears like a reference to CO3, ie., a carbonate.
      Why can’t they just call it OCO? or if they wan’t CO2 in its name, then something other than a term that may be mistaken for a different (but in some way related) molecule.
      It is bad enough that politicians talk about carbon, rather than carbon dioxide. I consider the terminoly needlessly ambiguous/misleading.

      • It’s just a little word play, using acronym soup as the base. So it was the 2nd orbiting carbon observatory, no, the third (because the first OC2 was a failed mission). OCO3 is coming soon (but will likely just be a spectrometer carried onboard the Internations Space Station)

      • The O’s in the acronym are not oxygen. Which is rather unfortunate as O2 (molecular oxygen) provides the primary reference signal for the spectromter’s CO2 measurement.

  15. Also interesting was the unexpected florescence detected from chlorophyll (Solar Induced Florescence). This is signal generated by living green plants in sunlight, which appears to be on the order of 1 wpm2 in the tropics.
    Look at North Africa. No glow from the chloroplasts. Must be all desert.
    Just occurred to me that we could “save humanity”( in the Caribbean regions at least), by ‘terraforming’ this region. I.e. make it green (again). So we could maybe say goodbye to the Saharan Air Layer and Caribbean hurricanes.

    • Since you pointed to North Africa… let me direct you to a vegetation map of Africa..
      The chlorophyll sensor data doesn’t seem to be sensitive to grass lands. The map provided in the presentation is of low quality and early data and single season — however, shouldn’t chlorophyll in the leaves of trees be very similar to the chlorophyll in blades of grass? I suppose since the satellite is ‘down-looking’ the chloroplasts at right angles will be picked up by the data… Also, there was a comment from one of the panelists that the ocean-borne chloroplasts provide poor data. So, this particular product can’t be that good in comparison to real world variables… unless, that is, chloroplasts of grasses and ocean-borne chlorophyll containing planet life don’t re-radiated longwave radiation — Although, I suspect they do.

    • It’s Oct to Nov in the northern hemisphere so there is little photosynthetic activity. The same view in the spring and summer will show much more activity.

      • The chlorophyll fluorescence data is for August. I would expect to see photosynthesis in the Northern boreal forests.

      • @michael hart:
        Darn three level limit!
        Anyway, you can make out the faint signal over the forest… I had the same thought, until I noticed the slight pink mist.

  16. A long time series of CO2 emissions at high resolution will be the only way to know what we are seeing.
    The Initial 1970’s snapshot of a phenomenon without historical context is what led to the misleading Montreal Protocol. Those early readings led to likely misplaced alarmism and still perverts our understanding of the polar stratospheric ozone variations to this day.

  17. Isn’t it finally time to ‘defund’ NASA?
    Their latest antics which included firing an ancient and unlikely ‘Mars’ vehicle into the air and letting it fall again was as part of some projected Mars Expedition which everyone knows will never happen was truly pathetic. Now they are looking for ‘carbon’.
    By the way I grew up in awe of NASA…how could they have fallen so low?

    • It is a government agency, it therefore does what the government wants.
      I sure that the ‘genuine’ scientists at NASA would prefer to do something more adventurous and inspiring than merley looking for CO2.

      • I think real-time information on carbon sources and sinks is very interesting stuff. It’s a very important part of our biosphere. Understanding it better will be helpful and interesting. I wish they had information on relative concentration in the vertical dimension.

      • It would seem to me to be money spent more wisely than that spent on climate models. Learning more about sinks is particularly interesting to me.
        Now if we can have the unadjusted data please?

    • manned space flight missions beyond LEO satellite repair missions is a complete and total waste. Robotic missions to Mars, the Moon, or other bodies in the solar system are worthy and may provide some very long term benefit to mankind.
      Imagine a robotic asteroid surveyor craft findind an iridium-platinum rich asteroid and the robotic tugs tractor it to a lunar orbit for mining. Terrestrial Copper resources will eventually be depleted, but a hugely abundant platinum (or silver) source could replace it.

  18. One of the most “promising” prospects of OCO2 will certainly energize (or de-energize) skeptics and believers alike. It is the prospect of actually quantifying the anthropogenic component (if such exists) in the observed CO2 densities. This was alluded to by Christian Frankenburg in response to a reporter’s question.
    This would be historic, of course, because the AGW CO2 component has never been directly measured or quantified. (Just ‘estimated’ by models up to now).
    But don’t hold your breath.

  19. Why orbit a satellite that will be ignored if it gives the wrong data? Just cut to the chase and use dowsing rods to get the result you want.

  20. The early numbers are showing highest CO2 in the southern mid-latitudes. This is backwards to what is expected.
    There should higher numbers in the northern hemisphere versus the southern, especially at this time period of Oct 1 to Nov 11. The highest concentration comes from the southern hemisphere mid-latitudes vegetation zones on land which are supposed to be drawing down CO2 in this peak spring growth period. The northern high latitudes are supposed to be giving up much more CO2 as late season die-back/winter cycle produces excess CO2. Ocean isn’t showing anything expected. Beijing, however, shows up pretty solid.

    • It’s too early to draw any final conclusions, but I expect that it will show the United States and Europe as relatively minor players in this system of CO2 sources and sinks.
      Hey, that was the goal of the activists, to reduce US and EU carbon footprints. I guess it has worked better than they ever hoped for. They can all go home now.

    • The presented map only shows the present location of the found CO2 within the atmospheric column. This particular map doesn’t show the origination of that CO2. So, I don’t know – just a wild guess… but perhaps, the tropical forest canopy is providing a ‘wind-breaker’ for pooling increasing CO2 as the Southern Oceans warm in the spring sunshine.
      The data will need to be all present after the 2 year mission in order to come to any real conclusions as to what the data mean. And I’m quite sure that the data will show whatever the interpreter wishes whomever that interpreter may be.
      The real story has already been told — that is, CO2 increases of the last 2 decades do not correspond well to the flat temperature trend.

    • The Amazon and Congo basins are called the “lungs of the world”. That is where the CO2 should be getting drawn down. Think of the rest of the world as a pavement sloping down to the drains.
      It is of interest that Southern hemispheric temperature anomaly appears to match the rate of change of atmospheric CO2 concentration most closely. Human inputs have little impact. CO2 concentration is mostly a temperature modulated, southern hemispheric dominated phenomenon.

      • D. socrates says:
        Can you post a graph with absolute temperature instead of anomaly?
        Why is it you always ask others to post everything you want, but you never even reply when you are asked to do likewise?
        A simple search will give you what you’re looking for. Here’s what I want (and what endless searches have not found):
        Post a chart from a reputable source showing that ∆T is caused by ∆CO2.
        Simples… if that cause and effect relationship is big enough to measure. I say it’s not.

      • Can I… What in the world for? It is the departure from business-as-usual the that drives long term change. That is what the anomaly measures. And, it matches the outcome. Why would I need to look elsewhere when the governing relationship is already evident?

    • Deforestation is a tiny player when it comes to the Carbon Cycle/CO2 Cycle in the Amazon rainforest. Several orders of magnitude different.

  21. @Joe Kbetcha
    Yes volcanic regions seem also to correlate but it seem deforestation is stronger CO2 emitter.

  22. Will the results be considered a “baseline” to be compared with future measurements and then hypothesis formed or hyped and spun to confirm previous “We’re all going to die! …unless…” baseline-less hypothesis?
    The latter will happen. I hope the former takes precedence.

  23. What a disgraceful waste of money and effort when we already know that the change in atmospheric CO2 concentration does not affect a change in temperature of the Earth’s surface.
    This is highlighted in Dr John Christy’s summary of 36 years of satellite lower tropospheric temperature recording which gave the greatest rate of temperature increase over Baffin Bay, 0.82 deg.C per decade, and least over Dome C in the Antarctic, -0.50 deg.C per decade, in spite of both areas having the same rate of increase in CO2 concentration over that period.
    Add to that the fact that Scripps Institute data from Mauna Loa shows CO2 increasing at an ever increasing rate, namely 0.69 ppm per annum for Nov. 1958 to Nov. 1963 compared to 2.22 ppm per annum for Oct. 2009 to Oct. 2014, a factor of 3.2 times greater, yet there has been no warming for the past 18 years.

  24. It occurs to me that the Landsat/Earthsat-type multi-spectral scanners have been mapping plant activity in exquisite detail for many years. This new satellite is like scientists ignoring the reality of Google Maps and showing up with one of those “earth at night” maps and saying “Wow, we can finally see where the cities are!” Duh.
    Also, since the human component of CO2 emission is supposedly in the 3% range, they will still be looking way down in the noise to find evidence of human activity. If you assume that the big blobs coming from the “deforestation and burning” areas are primarily human, it would represent WAY more than 3%. Same for the blob over China.
    If this data shows that the developing countries are in fact the source of the problem, why on earth would the developed countries want to pay compensation for the damage the developed countries are supposedly causing, when it would be the recipients who are actually responsible. Sort of turns the whole IPCC meme right on its head, no?

  25. “It occurs to me that the Landsat/Earthsat-type multi-spectral scanners have been mapping plant activity in exquisite detail for many years.[…]”
    Hehehe. You would think so. But this is totally “the first time ever” just like how everything else is (the classic) “worse than we thought…” and if it isn’t that it is “better than expected…” (the post about polar ice holding up to global warming…). They just keep repeating their excuses.

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