Earth's land and ocean currently absorb about half of all carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels, but it's uncertain whether the planet can keep this up in the future. NASA's Earth science program works to improve our understanding of how carbon absorption and emission processes work in nature and how they could change in a warming world with increasing levels of emissions from human activities.


Our atmosphere, just a thin layer of gasses surrounding our planet.

Absorbing solar radiation.

Retaining heat to warm the Earth's surface.

A delicate mixture of gasses separating life on Earth from the rest of the cosmos.

But when this mixture of gasses gets out of balance, the temperature rises and alters our climate.

Carbon is an essential component of Earth's atmosphere, but it's also the primary driver of our warming climate...

and NASA scientists are learning more about our changing climate by studying how carbon dioxide moves through the atmosphere, ocean, and plant life.

When people burn fossil fuels and clear forests, carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere. But only half of that carbon stays in the atmosphere warming our planet and contributing to climate change. The other half is removed from the air by the planet's ecosystems and ocean.

A huge question is, in the future, as the carbon dioxide builds up, will the land and the ocean continue to take up that fifty percent. Do they get saturated, they're full and they quit at some point? Or do they always just take up more and more and more?

In some regions, forests are releasing more carbon than they're storing.

Forests gain carbon as they grow, and they release it as the die and decompose. And processes like drought, pests, fire, and deforestation contribute to the release of carbon.

Like vegetation on land, ocean water absorbs carbon dioxide from fossil fuel emissions. Doing so, however, changes the chemistry of seawater, with wide ranging impacts on marine ecosystems. And, as surface water in the ocean continues to warm, carbon uptake will slow down at some point.

Models of atmospheric CO2 help us understand what our satellites see so we get a more complete picture of this global carbon cycle.

We can check our models against atmospheric observations like those provided by OCO-2, and if they look reasonable, then we have confidence in using these models to predict how carbon is going to change in the future.

NASA is utilizing it's unique science capabilities to increase our understanding of our home planet, improve lives, and safeguard our future.

Your planet is changing. We're on it.

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