Video Transcript: OCO-2: NASA's Carbon Counter


MUSIC

We're trying to think about what's going to happen in fifty years. That's really what drives us to change our behavior.

To predict how much carbon dioxide might be affecting our climate in fifty years, I first of all have to predict how much carbon dioxide will be in the air in fifty years.

We can start to see these changes in our temperature and sea level rising and other things, and we're concerned about where that's going to go in the future.

MUSIC

OCO-2 is NASA's satellite that's dedicated to measuring carbon dioxide. We're going to measure carbon dioxide all around the globe, so get these global measurements very, very precise of carbon dioxide.

Measurements like those to be made by the Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2 are absolutely critical for us to understand how carbon dioxide interacts with something called the global carbon cycle.

MUSIC

When we burn gas in our cars or we burn coal for power, we produce carbon dioxide that goes into the atmosphere.

Half of the CO2 that's being emitted to the atmosphere remains in the atmosphere. The other fifty percent is being absorbed by the oceans or the terrestrial biosphere.

So, those are almost in balance, but as we add this carbon dioxide into the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels some of the extra is going into the ocean, some of the extra is probably going into the land. But we don't know exactly where that is.

We'll see every two weeks or so, how much carbon dioxide there is left in the, the atmosphere. And we call this letting the planet breath.

These are things we clearly have to start understanding if we want to actually manage the carbon dioxide build up in our atmosphere.

MUSIC

We've discovered this terrifically important, additional contribution we'll be able to make from OCO-2.

Plants grow and they glow. So when they glow, the instrument's actually going to be able to see this glow.

They bring in blue light and they re-emit yellow and red light.

With solar-induced fluorescence measurements gives you an indication of how well a particular region is absorbing or being a sink for atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Imagine what this could tell us about the yield of crops from the great food baskets of the world. Suddenly we could have a new, direct measure of how productive those food growing areas are going to be. And the two in combination, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and an indicator of how effective plants are in taking CO2 out of the atmosphere… it's just an impossibly brilliant combination.

MUSIC

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology