The first of its kind to detect reduced human carbon emissions

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For the first time, researchers have noticed short-term regional fluctuations in the content of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (CO2) worldwide due to emissions from human activities.

Using a combination of NASA satellites and atmospheric simulations, scientists conducted the first-ever detection of human CO.2 changes in emissions. A new study uses data from NASA’s Orbital Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) to measure CO drops.2 emissions during the COVID-19 pandemic from space. With daily and monthly products with data now available to the public, this opens up new possibilities for tracking the collective impact of human activities on CO2 concentrations are almost real-time.

Previous research has examined the effects of blockades at the start of a pandemic and found that global CO2 in 2020 the level dropped slightly. However, by combining OCO-2 high-resolution data with NASA’s Goddard Earth Observation System (GEOS) modeling and data analysis tools, the team was able to narrow down which monthly changes were due to human activity and which were due to natural causes on a regional scale. This confirms preliminary estimates based on economic and human performance data.

The team’s measurements showed that there is an increase in CO in the Northern Hemisphere2 concentrations decreased from February to May 2020 and resumed over the summer, in line with global emission reductions of 3% to 13% for the year.

The results represent a leap forward for researchers studying the regional effects of climate change and tracking the results of mitigation strategies, the team said. The method allows to detect changes in atmospheric CO2 just a month or two after they occurred, providing quick and effective information on how emissions from man and nature are evolving.

Clear subtle changes in the Earth’s atmosphere

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a greenhouse gas present in the atmosphere, and its concentration varies due to natural processes such as plant respiration, exchange with the oceans, and human activities such as burning fossil fuels and deforestation. After the Industrial Revolution the concentration of CO2 the atmosphere increased by almost 49%, surpassing 400 parts per million for the first time in human history in 2013.

When governments asked citizens to stay home at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, fewer cars on the road meant a sharp drop in the amount of greenhouse gases and pollutants released into the atmosphere. But with CO2, “A steep fall” needs to be put into context, said Leslie Ott, a research meteorologist with NASA’s Office of Global Modeling and Assimilation at Godard’s Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. This gas can persist in the atmosphere for up to a century after its release, so short-term changes can be lost in the overall global carbon cycle – a sequence of absorption and release that includes natural as well as human processes. The blockade in early 2020 is a small part of the total CO2 picture for the year.

“In early 2020, we saw fires in Australia that ejected CO2“We’ve seen greater uptake by plants across India, and we’ve seen all these different influences mix,” Ott said.

Until recently, it was impossible to measure such changes with the help of satellite technology. NASA’s OCO-2 satellite has high-precision spectrometers designed to capture even smaller CO fluctuations2and combined with a comprehensive model of the GEOS Earth system, were ideal to detect changes related to the pandemic.






The blockade associated with COVID-19 has given scientists an unexpected and detailed look at how human activities affect the composition of the atmosphere. Two recent studies, one focusing on nitric oxide and the other examining CO2 concentrations, were able to detect the atmospheric “imprint” of blockages in unprecedented detail. Written by NASA / Katie Jepson

“OCO-2 was not designed to monitor emissions, but it is designed to see even smaller signals than what we saw with COVID,” said lead author Brad Weir, a researcher at Goddard and Morgan University. Vir explained that one of the goals of the OCO-2 mission study was to track how human emissions are shifting in response to climate policy, which is expected to lead to small gradual changes in CO.2. “We hoped that this measurement system would be able to detect huge violations such as COVID.”

The team compared the measured changes in CO content in the atmosphere2 with independent estimates of changes in emissions due to blockages. In addition to confirming these other estimates, an agreement between emission models and atmospheric CO2 measurements provide strong evidence that the reduction was related to human activities.

GEOS provided important information on wind patterns and other natural weather fluctuations affecting CO2 emissions and transport. “This study really brings everything together to tackle an extremely complex problem,” Ott said.

Let’s take a closer look at greenhouse gases

The team’s results showed that the growth of CO2 concentrations in the Northern Hemisphere decreased from February to May 2020 (corresponding to 3% and 13% reductions in global emissions, respectively), which coincides with computer simulations of how activity constraints and natural influences should affect the atmosphere.

The signal was not as clear in the southern hemisphere, thanks to another climate anomaly that is breaking records: the Indian Ocean Dipole, or IOD. IOD is a cyclical pattern of oceans that are colder than normal in Southeast Asia and warmer than conventional oceans in the eastern Indian Ocean (“positive” phase) or reverse (“negative” phase). In late 2019 and early 2020, the IOD experienced an intense positive phase that yielded a bountiful harvest season in sub-Saharan Africa and contributed to a record fire season in Australia. Both events severely affected the carbon cycle and made it difficult to detect the COVID blocking signal, the team said, but also demonstrated the potential of GEOS / OCO-2 to track natural CO.2 fluctuations in the future.

GEOS / OCO-2 data provide one of the indicators on the COVID-19 Earth Observation Panel, created in partnership between NASA, the European Space Agency and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. The dashboard collects global data and indicators to track how blockages, drastic reductions in transport and other COVID-related actions are affecting the Earth’s ecosystems.

The assimilated GEOS-OCO-2 product is available for free download, making it available to researchers and students wishing to explore further.

“Scientists can come up to this dashboard and say,‘ I see something interesting in CO2 signal; what can it be? “said Ott.” We don’t understand different things in these datasets, and I think it helps people explore in a new way. “

In the future, the new method of assimilation and analysis could also be used to monitor the results of climate mitigation programs and policies, especially at the community or regional level, the team said.

“Being able to monitor how our climate is changing, knowing that this technology is ready to use, we are really proud,” Ott said.


Emission reductions from the pandemic had an unexpected impact on the atmosphere


Additional information:
Brad Weir et al., The regional impact of COVID-19 on carbon dioxide found worldwide from space, Advances in science (2021). DOI: 10.1126 / sciadv.abf9415

Provided by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

Citation: The first detection of its kind of reduced human carbon emissions (2022, April 1), obtained April 2, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-04-first-of-its-kind-human – carbon emissions.html

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