First Data from NASA’s OCO-3 Mission: ‘CO2, I See You’

From NASA Global Climate Change

Features | July 12, 2019

Preliminary carbon dioxide (CO2) measurements from OCO-3 over the United States. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Preliminary carbon dioxide (CO2) measurements from OCO-3 over the United States. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-3 (OCO-3), the agency’s newest carbon dioxide-measuring mission to launch into space, has seen the light. From its perch on the International Space Station, OCO-3 captured its first glimpses of sunlight reflected by Earth’s surface on June 25, 2019. Just weeks later, the OCO-3 team was able to make its first determinations of carbon dioxide and solar-induced fluorescence – the “glow” that plants emit from photosynthesis, a process that includes the capture of carbon from the atmosphere.

The first image shows carbon dioxide, or CO2, over the United States during OCO-3’s first few days of science data collection. These initial measurements are consistent with measurements taken by OCO-3’s older sibling, OCO-2, over the same area – meaning that even though OCO-3’s instrument calibration is not yet complete, it is right on track to continue its (currently still operational) predecessor’s data record.

OCO-3 was also able to make its first measurements of solar-induced fluorescence. The second image shows solar-induced fluorescence in western Asia. Areas with lower plant glow – indicating lower photosynthesis activity – are shown in light green; areas with higher photosynthesis activity are shown in dark green. As expected, there is significant contrast in plant activity from areas of low vegetation near the Caspian Sea to the forests and farms north and east of the Mingachevir Reservoir (near the center of the image).

Preliminary solar-induced fluorescence (SIF) measurements from OCO-3 over western Asia.

Preliminary solar-induced fluorescence (SIF) measurements from OCO-3 over western Asia. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“The team is so excited to see how well OCO-3 is performing,” said Project Scientist Annmarie Eldering, who is based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “These preliminary carbon dioxide and solar-induced fluorescence retrievals look fantastic and will only improve as calibration improves.”

OCO-3 launched to the space station on May 4. Although one of its main objectives is to continue the five-year data record started by OCO-2, it has two unique capabilities. First, OCO-3 is equipped with a new pointing mirror assembly that will allow scientists to map local variations in carbon dioxide from space more completely than can be achieved by OCO-2.

Second, the space station’s orbit will allow OCO-3 to see the same location on Earth at different times of day, which will allow scientists to study how carbon dioxide fluctuates throughout the day. OCO-2, not mounted on the space station, is in a near polar orbit that only allows it to see the same location at the same time of day.

OCO-3’s data will complement data from two other Earth-observing missions aboard the space station – ECOSTRESS, which measures temperature stress and water use by plants, and GEDI, which assesses the amount of above-ground organic plant material present particularly in forests. The combined data from all of these instruments will give scientists both an unprecedented level of detail about how plants around the globe are responding to changes in climate and a more complete understanding of the carbon cycle.

The mission team expects to complete OCO-3’s in-orbit checkout phase – the period where they ensure all instruments and components are working and calibrated correctly – next month. They are scheduled to release official carbon dioxide and solar-induced fluorescence data to the science community a year later; however, given the quality of the measurements that OCO-3 is already making, the data will likely be available sooner.

The OCO-3 project is managed by JPL. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

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52 thoughts on “First Data from NASA’s OCO-3 Mission: ‘CO2, I See You’

  1. Very interesting, but will it help the proper scientists, i.e. the honest ones, to be able to counter the wild claims about the weather.

    My pet hate is rhe way the alarmist have pinched a perfectly good word, Climate, and now use it instead of weather. They should be saying “”Weather change” instead of the totally incorrect word climate . That is a 30 year average of the weather.

    MJE VK5ELL

    • Cannot agree more about the misuse of the word climate. How long before there is “Climate Channel” on TV, “weekend climate forecast” on radio, …..
      As to the minimum of 30 years, it is the trend during that time, along with the average.

      • jake
        It is not just the average and trend that characterize climate, but the de-trended variance speaks to the issue of claimed ‘extreme weather.’ Yet, one does not hear about how the variance changes. Perhaps it is too quantitative for those accustomed to hand waving.

    • The 30 year average they compare to is also subjective.

      Compare a 30 year average from the Little Ice Age to current climate and we are much better off

  2. CO2 = Life , without it plants die then humans die from lack of Oxygen that plants produce , during the Dino age we had many many times more CO2 and bigger plants and animals

    • I noticed that average height has increased in the last few decades. CO2? Omg! Carbon is turning humans into giants!

      • F.LEGHORN

        Bigger animals were Dinos ectt but yes there were nephilims = Giants i guess your liberal education wont teach you that 🙂

    • Oxygen might stick around longer than plant life which causes every living thing to starve.

  3. A more detailed explanation of the OCO-3 mission and instruments. For example, solar-induced fluorescence (SIF) consists of very faint IR and red light emitted by plants during photo synthesis. Normally such emissions would be impossible to detect against the intense illumination from the Sun. But there are dark absorption gaps (“Fraunhofer lines”) in the optical solar spectrum, within which SIF signals from plants can be detected.

    https://directory.eoportal.org/web/eoportal/satellite-missions/i/iss-oco-3

    • Fraunhofer lines are not absorption gaps, they are absorption peaks.

      However, the data looks crap. Very noisy and full of breaks and gaps. It does not look like it offers more information than the optical photo on which it is overlaid.

      Also they seem to be skipping discussing the effect of cloud cover. The orbit progression of ISS is said to give full cover in about 30 days. This is similar to the 36 day repetition in ERBE which produced a huge alias of the diurnal cycle because they were assuming constant cloud cover.

      https://climategrog.files.wordpress.com/2015/02/erbe_tropical_sw_phase_drift_adj.png

      • @Greg
        “Fraunhofer lines are not [dark] absorption gaps, they are absorption peaks. “

        I think most people will easily understand “dark absorption gaps” as the same as “dark gaps in spectrum caused by absorption”. Adjectives very often explain their nouns in an instrumental manner.

        “However, the data looks crap. Very noisy and full of breaks and gaps. It does not look like it offers more information than the optical photo on which it is overlaid”

        And your point is?

        This is science. Time will tell how much useful information can be gleaned from this ‘crappy’ data. I think it is all very interesting and may provide new ways to characterize plant life processes. Or not. That is how science works.

  4. “…the OCO-3 team was able to make its first determinations of carbon dioxide and solar-induced fluorescence.”

    It’s not a totally new diagnostic.

    I saw somebody presenting a Science paper back in ~2009 discussing the technique at The Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle. The number that took me aback was that it was estimated that oceanic photosynthesis (and subsequent degradation) had a turnover equivalent to 10% of the carbon in the biosphere every 24 hours. Of course this is turnover, not net carbon fixation, and depends on how you define the biosphere. But it indicates the gargantuan scale of photosynthetic life on earth.

  5. Look at the global SIF emissions into space (roughly 0 to 1 watt per square meter per micron per steradian), mapping areas of photosynthesis activity. [Note: OCO-3’s instruments are not fully calibrated, so this plot is from OCO-2 [2014]].
    https://directory.eoportal.org/documents/163813/4731920/ISS-OCO3_AutoD.jpeg

    I noticed a curious correlation of the above SIF data with regions of global NO2 emissions as plotted by the Czech Windy.com weather portal. Photosynthesis and NO2 pollution seem to occur together, with notable exceptions of course, such as Indonesia, where SIF covers the whole country, but NO2 is only found on the island of Java where the capital Jakarta is located (metropolitan population is approx 30 million!)
    https://www.windy.com/-NO2-no2?cams,no2,43.463,-27.949,3

    NO2 is bad for humans, makes us cough and wheeze. But is it some kind of plant nutrient?

    • NO2 is bad for humans, makes us cough and wheeze. But is it some kind of plant nutrient?

      Absolutely yes. It’s soluble inorganic nitrogen. Very conveniently, Alan Hansen claimed a few years ago that NO2 fertilization from Chinese coal emissions was responsible for atmospheric CO2 not rising as rapidly as expected.

      • 50 years ago I used to work at a combined pulp and paper mill built on the edge of a very large area of forest growing on volcanic soil. It used to be noticeable that there was a pronounced greening of the forest after any thunderstorm in the area. The foresters put it down to the fixing of atmospheric nitrogen as a result of the lightning.

        • I once had a neighbor who was the head groundskeeper for the Atlanta Braves, he told that after a big thunderstorm they would cut back on the amount of nitrogen being added to the field, in order to avoid over fertilizing.

          • Many people claim that snow is an excellent fertiliser. Same as rain it contains nitrogen but since it melts away slowly, more of it gets absorbed rather than being lost as run off.

            In ten years time, greenies will be saying we need more diesel engines because they were helping plants grow.

        • “It used to be noticeable that there was a pronounced greening of the forest after any thunderstorm in the area. The foresters put it down to the fixing of atmospheric nitrogen as a result of the lightning.”

          Definitely! Even your lawn grass has a smile on its face after a good rain. Rain is natural fertilizer.

          Btw, my lawn grass is almost growing faster than I can mow it!

    • NO2 is bad for humans, makes us cough and wheeze. But is it some kind of plant nutrient?

      Not my expertise, but if it gets washed out by rain into the soil, it could add nitrogen to it & become useful to plants.

    • In the ground, nitrogen is vital for plants and is thus used in fertilizers in varying amounts. the only gas form of nitrogen I have heard of before this is the kind dentists (and some other people) use.

      • Dentists use nitrous oxide ( N2O ) sometimes known as laughing gas.
        Nitrogen dioxide ( NO2 ) is what people get worked up about with regards to vehicle emissions.
        Nitrogen is taken up by plants in the form of nitrate ions ( NO3- ).
        Nitrogen itself is a pretty inert gas, although is converted to a reactive compound by nitrogen fixing bacteria, mainly present in legume roots.
        Lightning strikes also can generate nitrogen oxides.
        It is reckoned that between 5 and 20 kg of nitrogen compounds arrive in rainfall from ‘ natural ‘ sources. Before SUVs this and legumes were the main way plants could source nitrogen.
        The US prairies built up substantial reserves of organic matter over thousands of years.
        When the sod-busters cultivated the prairie soils large amounts of nitrogen were released and allowed successive crops of wheat to be grown. However by the 1930s much of the natural fertility had been used up, and farming techniques had to become more sophisticated in order to restore the soils’ fertility.

        • “When the sod-busters cultivated the prairie soils large amounts of nitrogen were released and allowed successive crops of wheat to be grown. However by the 1930s much of the natural fertility had been used up, and farming techniques had to become more sophisticated in order to restore the soils’ fertility.”

          Ergo “dustbowl”.

        • “It is reckoned that between 5 and 20 kg of nitrogen compounds arrive in rainfall from”
          Do we need another unit here?

    • Johanus

      The JPL website leaves a lot to be desired in explaining the importance of the SIF. Since the Earth Resources Technology Satellite (now known as Landsat-1) was inserted into orbit in 1972, remote sensing scientists have been using a Normalized-Difference Vegetation Index and related algorithms to determine abundance and health of vegetation ( https://www.hindawi.com/journals/js/2017/1353691/ ). This is a mature technology basically depending on the relative reflectance of red and near-IR radiation. For that reason, almost all remote sensing multispectral scanners incorporate at least one near-IR band. Because chlorophyll reflects so strongly in the near-IR, it provides a strong signal-to-noise ratio (SNR). However, the red fluorescence is relatively weak, and confined to a narrow band. I expect the SIF fluorescence to provide a much lower SNR.

      Other than an unsupported claim, “Applications Studying SIF data can provide unprecedented data to help many different fields.”, I found nothing to explain how SIF is going to be superior to the long-used multispectral vegetation indexes.

      • @Clyde Spencer
        “I found nothing to explain how SIF is going to be superior to the long-used multispectral vegetation indexes.”

        The fluorescence of chlorophyll has been observed for more than a century. But solar-induced fluorescence of forest canopies etc was first observed by OCO-2 and so there is still a lot to be learned. I suspect it will not replace but merely supplement the legacy vegetation indices, because the effect is very weak and difficult to detect.
        www2.geog.ucl.ac.uk/~mdisney/teaching/GEOGG141/papers/sif.pdf

        • Johanus
          Thank you for the link. After reading it, I’m of the opinion that the OCO-3 work will really be applied research on SIF to determine if if has advantages over the traditional vegetation indexes. Thus, their “unprecedented” expectation may be premature. Pulling out a 1% to <10% additive signal from a background confirms my concern about a low SNR.

  6. “As expected, there is significant contrast in plant activity from areas of low vegetation near the Caspian Sea to the forests and farms north and east of the Mingachevir Reservoir”

    How many millions of dollars to demonstrate the bleedin’ obvious? You could get this information from a $5 school atlas…

    Oh, I forgot – it’s that magic pixie dust term: ‘carbon dioxide’!

    • “… bleedin’ obvious…’
      I think you are missing the point that this is an initial measurement, with totally expected results. So just a ‘sanity check’ to verify the instruments. Not a new discovery.

    • Well … we learned that the modeled concentrations of CO2 are pretty much FUBAR ….. 😉

    • Yep with all those carbon atoms they’ll detect twice as many oxygen atoms so we won’t be running out anytime soon unless the plants stop burping and farting.

  7. one of the bedrock assumptions of AGW theory is that globally, CO2 is a well-mixed gas … Don’t these satellite measurements show that to be false? and thus, the entire AGW theory is simply false …

    • CO2 is a well-mixed gas in Earth’s atmosphere. OCO-2 typically found concentrations ranging from 390 to 410 ppm. That is a mixture that varies only 2 or 3 percent overall, so it is well-mixed.

      Looking at the OCO-2 plots, however, is misleading because the contrast has been enhanced to make small changes in concentration more easily seen.
      http://wattsupwiththat.files.wordpress.com/2015/10/clip_image0041.jpg
      So it doesn’t look “well mixed”. But it really is.

      Are there regions where CO2 isn’t well mixed? Well if you visit a large corn field at peak growing time (when you can actually hear the corn growing). Yes, you will find the concentration way below 400 ppm. Because the plants must absorb 18 tons of CO2 per acre during the growing process.
      https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/corn_fields_help_clean_up_and_protect_the_environment

      • “Are there regions where CO2 isn’t well mixed?”

        Well, figures purportedly derived from the OCO-II data apparently showed a large sink in the upper troposphere over polar regions. Not a peep about this have I heard from those who would claim to know.

        The only explanation I can think of might be extremely high solubility of CO2 in super-cooled water particles in clouds. Of course that would require climatists to step outside of their comfort zone of equilibrium assumptions placed into the models, so is probably not going to happen.

        • Got any links ? I was under the impression that there were latitude limits for the instrument in the A-Train orbit d/t illumination geometry …

          That said OCO-2 has been kept well away from public discussion / exposure.

      • “That is a mixture that varies only 2 or 3 percent overall, so it is well-mixed.”

        390 to 410 ppm is 5%. And the variation is actually larger than that, more like 10% :

        https://dcgazette.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/CO2-data-Jan-1-Feb-15-2015.jpg

        In any case other atmospheric gases (except water) vary much less. And CO2 varies much more than 10% on a small scale. Remember that all old measurements that show much more CO2 than the preindustrial norm of 280 ppm are explained as local variations. So, no, it isn’t really “well mixed”.

      • I have not been able to find a formal definition of “well-mixed gas”. FYI, here is the entry in the CDD (Climate Debate Dictionary):

        well-mixed greenhouse gas
        Definition: (Aka WMGG)

        A greenhouse gas that has an atmospheric lifetime long enough to be more-or-less homogeneously mixed in the troposphere.

        Example Usages –
        1. “The forcings illustrated here are from the well mixed greenhouse gases (CO2, CH4, N2O, CFCs), tropospheric and stratospheric O3, direct aerosol effects (from sulphates, nitrates, organic and black carbon), land use change, solar irradiance, volcanic aerosols, and various indirect effects (on clouds, stratospheric water vapour, snow albedo etc.).”
        (Source: ???)

        In any case, I think we all agree that CO2 is more “well-mixed” than water vapor, which is highly dependent on altitude, dew point and temperature and so varies from 0% to 4% (for T<=30C). Whereas CO2 is more or less 'fixed' at 0.04% (give or take a few percent on average).

        • Johanus
          An acceptable definition of “well-mixed’ may depend on what one is trying to say with the expression. CO2 is certainly more uniform than water vapor, but not as well mixed as nitrogen or argon. If one were to put a few drops of a dye into a glass bowl, and swirl it around, there would be streaks of dye amongst clear water layers — not unlike the OCO-2 animation showing how CO2 varies with altitude and across the globe, or seasonally. Probably most would not consider the dye to be “well-mixed” until it appeared uniform, that is, lacking discernible stratification. The question of the importance of the claim depends on whether temperatures are highly sensitive to small changes in a doubling in CO2 concentration.

    • Kaiser Derden
      July 20, 2019 at 6:34 am
      ————–
      Kaiser,

      Every thing you state in the above comment of yours is totally backwards and false…and I think you know it too.

      cheers

  8. Why is there a quite dark green collection of pixels in the middle of the Sahara? and how green are the oceans, even the middle of the Pacific , sometimes likened to a desert so far as animal life is concerned.

  9. I am pleased to hear the detail on biomass is better. The current CDM methodologies are fraught and confusing, when it comes to estimating refraction of biomass that is being harvested unsustainably.

    Any sign of exponential change in the growth will affect the future value of certified emission reduction certificates (CER’s).

  10. FYI for city folks, the most cost effective way farmers add nitrogen to the soil is through direct injection of anhydrous ammonia. Hence the large white tanks at Coops and farm service centers. You can rent a special plow that has a hose and nozzle behind each blade that squirts it into the dirt several inches below the surface. I drove tractor doing this for my grandfather a few times growing up(at 15-16 years old). You learn real quick to turn off the ammonia before you lift the plow out of the ground when turning around.

  11. Specific to this article, off topic; but never off topic for WUWT:

    Mark Levin’s new book, “Unfreedom of the Press”, has a good bit about how the public is bamboozled about “climate change.” All-in-all, the entirety of the book is a must read.

  12. The most important thing is access to uncorrected raw data. Next is access to algorithms and corrections used on the data. Third, data should be stored in blockchain so evolution over time can be tracked and correlated. The data used to produce the Keeling curve should follow this too but sadly it does not and it is extraordinarily difficult to validate and reproduce. Certainly correlation and corrections over time are necessary but those corrections need to be published so they be scrutinized. Corrections that are deemed trivial or unimportant or unassailable are a form of confirmation bias.

  13. Ah. Calibration with ground measured increase (which are partly from a model) must be completed. Do you suppose this satellite has one of those “dials” on it too? Just like the ones in the multi-server super computers?

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